The hazards of asbestos to the public

Last Updated on May 20, 2024 by Dan

Hazards of asbestos

The general public have been aware about the hazards of asbestos for a considerable number of years……as far back as 1924 infact.

But the dangers of asbestos have actually been known about for much longer……

Back in 1899, there was a case where a 33-year-old man died of fibrosis of the lungs.

He had worked for 14 years in an asbestos textile factory.

Asbestos was found in his lungs and was therefore attributed to him having inhaled asbestos fibers.

Years later in 1924, there was another case concerning the death of Nellie Kershaw.

Unlike the previous case years before relating to asbestos, this one was widely reported in the press.

It was the findings of this latest asbestos related death that eventually led to the government commissioning the Chief Inspector of Factories, Edward Merewether.

He, along with an engineer, Charles Price, were to report on workers’ health in the asbestos industry.

Their findings showed that of those workers who were still at work and had been employed for more than five years, one third of them had asbestosis.

And of those still working in the factory after 20 years, four-fifths of them had the disease.

Following these findings, the government then introduced new regulations in 1931 in order to control exposure to asbestos.

As part of the new regulations. arrangements were made for workers to have regular medical check-ups, and workers were also able to claim compensation if they were suffering with asbestosis.


crocidolite asbestos fibers

Asbestos the ‘magic’ mineral

Prior to the new regulations that came into force in 1931, asbestos was actually considered by many to be a ‘magic mineral’.

It was hailed as a wonder material because of its many beneficial properties.

The material could be woven and was extremely resistant to high temperatures.

Commercial use of the material began in the late 19th century, and it was widely used as a building material on ships, steam engines and in power generating plants.

The use of asbestos steadily grew following on from the 1931 Regulations in the UK.

In the early 1950s, John Knox, the medical officer at the factory where Nellie Kershaw had worked, grew concerned as he was seeing more and more cases of lung cancer in the workforce.

Mr Knox contacted Richard Doll who had previously reported on the link between lung cancer and cigarette smoking in 1950.

Mr Doll made comparisons with the death rate of those who had worked with asbestos in the factory, with what would be expected in men of the same age in the UK.

His findings showed that those employed in the factory were in fact ten times more likely to die from lung cancer.

Doll published his findings in 1955, even though the factory were initially opposed to him doing so.

But they did take some comfort from the fact that the increased death rate had occurred in men first employed for some ten years before the 1931 Regulations.

Cases of mesothelioma reported on some years later

Five years after Doll publishing his findings, Chris Wagner reported 33 different cases of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma cancer affects the linings of the lung, pleura and less commonly the lining of the abdomen.

All cases bar one were linked to exposure to crocidolite (blue asbestos) in asbestos mining in South Africa at least 20 or more years earlier.

But surprisingly, the majority of the cases involved people who had not worked directly with asbestos in the mines or in insulation work – they had been exposed just by living in the neighbourhood of the mines.

It was this alarming discovery that led to the eventual death of the asbestos industry in the UK.

Any level of exposure to asbestos was considered to be unsafe.

1969 saw further regulations being introduced to control asbestos exposure in the workplace.

But the use of asbestos as a building material continued to be widespread throughout the 1970’s.

This has led to a surge in asbestos related deaths over the last few years, with figures expected to rise year on year.

Experts say deaths will peak in 2020 to around 2,500.

Tradesmen such as joiners, electricians and plumbers who have worked with asbestos are thought to be the most at risk.

The rate of mesothelioma deaths in the UK remain the highest in the world, despite us knowing about the hazards of asbestos.

Source of article:-

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their building so as not to put employees at risk of asbestos exposure.

So make sure you contact our Armco office to arrange an asbestos survey, before it’s too late! 

Whether you need an asbestos management survey, or a refurbishment/ demolition survey, contact us on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting

Finally, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit book an asbestos awareness training course.

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Published Feb 20, 2018

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