Is Hospital Asbestos A Problem?


The Law Of… Keeping Hospitals Safe

Hospitals are usually seen as caring environments, where people go to receive treatment and hopefully recover from whatever condition brought them there. But new research into the presence of asbestos in hospitals in London suggests that asbestos could be causing healthcare workers to contract mesothelioma, an un-treatable cancer.

Gavin Evans, Partner and Lead Solicitor of Industrial Disease, explains the worrying issue of asbestos in hospitals and why it is important for workers to be aware of the risk they take every time they go to work. 

Why Is Asbestos In Hospitals?

Asbestos is a building material that was used widely up until the late 1980s. Its insulation properties meant it was popular for insulating steam pipes and walls. Renovations since the 1980s has meant that the presence of asbestos has been reduced, but it is still present in many hospitals, schools, factories, ships and even homes. It is thought that 6 million tonnes of asbestos remain in buildings in the UK.

What Is Being Done About Asbestos In Hospitals?

It is currently law that asbestos be 'managed' by estate departments of public buildings. As a result of this, guidance is provided for the designated people who manage the asbestos, which involves surveying the asbestos in the buildings they govern.

Surveys of asbestos must provide information on:

  • What asbestos is present (there are  different types, some more dangerous than others)
  • What condition the asbestos is in
  • What is the risk of the asbestos present

Once this has been completed it is up to the allocated asbestos manager to decide what is to be done.

One of the biggest issues with the removal of asbestos from hospitals is the huge impact it has on the day-to-day running of clinics and treatment. Asbestos is at its most dangerous when disturbed. When asbestos is removed, there is danger of particles being breathed in by people nearby. If asbestos particles are inhaled, the risk of killer conditions, such as mesothelioma, are increased dramatically. To remove asbestos safely involves the systematic closing down of areas of the hospital, which has a huge impact on clinical services.

Who Is At Risk Of Mesothelioma From Hospital Asbestos?

It is thought by experts that patients are relatively safe from the disturbance of asbestos if it is removed correctly. However, healthcare workers and maintenance staff are at risk. Statistics suggest that there has been a rise in nurses contracting mesothelioma in later life. The Health and Safety Executive, who provide guidelines on how to manage asbestos, suggest that the number of nurses to lose their life to asbestos related diseases increased from 3 reported cases a year in 2000, to 7 reported cases a year in 2005. This number is expected to continue to increase until the year 2020.

Because of the nature of the work that maintenance workers do and the commonality of their exposure to asbestos, these employees are the most at risk. There have been many instances where workers have not been informed of the danger they are in and so have exposed themselves unknowingly.

Gavin comments:

"The true extent of the damage caused by the wide use of asbestos is not yet known. It is this lack of knowledge that should concern those put in charge of managing asbestos."

"Asbestos is a killer and should be treated as such. There is no such thing as 'safe' asbestos. The government needs to raise the profile of its risks and ensure that it is systematically removed from all buildings."

"What is most frustrating about the presence of asbestos in public buildings such as schools and hospitals is that workers in the buildings don't know the true risk they put themselves at every single day. It is very important to raise money for charities researching treatment for mesothelioma, but it is also incredibly important to raise awareness."

"Anyone who has contracted mesothelioma or other asbestos related diseases because of coming into contact with asbestos may be entitled to compensation. At Simpson Millar, we have many years of experience that help with the sensitive nature of these sorts of cases."

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