THOUSANDS of lives could be saved every year by urgently removing deadly asbestos from every building in Britain, MPs said yesterday.
At least 5,000 people die annually as a result of prolonged exposure to asbestos — a fireproof insulation material that can cause cancer when the tiny fibres are inhaled over time.
The number of preventable deaths is triple that on the roads, according to a report by the all-party parliamentary group on occupational safety and health.
The government is being “far too complacent about asbestos,” said group chairman and Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.
Unions have strongly called for the elimination of asbestos, which was banned from new uses in 1999 but remains in around a million homes and 500,000 commercial and public buildings.
Health and safety resource network the Hazards Campaign has also issued a statement of support for the report.
“Asbestos is not a problem of the past, but a very real and present risk to many workers,” said acting chairwoman Hilda Palmer.
“Failure of government to act now will be knowingly condemning future generations to death.”
The report says that removal of asbestos should be completed nationwide by 2035 and it recommends that schools and public buildings such as libraries be treated sooner — by 2028.
Hundreds of school staff have died from cancer caused by asbestos since 1980, said general union GMB national health and safety director Dan Shears.
“Given Britain’s historic leading role as producer and consumer of asbestos, a national action plan is the very least that the government should commit to.”
Construction union Ucatt also backed the call as thousands of its members working in building maintenance are at most danger from asbestos.
Eradicating asbestos in Britain will “not be easy,” the report admits, but “there is a need for a realistic timetable, but work towards that should start now.”
When the Star contacted Downing Street to make a comment on the report and the unions’ claims that ministers are not doing enough to tackle the issue of asbestos, it pointed towards the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
But when the Star then got in contact with the HSE, it said that it “will not comment on the central government’s position” on the asbestos crisis.
So far, no government department has been willing to make a comment despite repeated requests from the Star.