A new safety campaign launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos shows that an average of 20 tradespeople die every week from asbestos-related disease.

The HSE, which surveyed 500 tradespeople in Great Britain, revealed that, on average, construction workers, carpenters, painters and decorators are at risk of coming into contact with asbestos around 100 times a year.

The survey also exposed common myths associated with asbestos. One in seven surveyed believed that drinking a glass of water will protect them from asbestos, and one in four thought that opening a window will help keep them safe. Both are dangerous misconceptions.

The survey also uncovered alarming statistics about the way tradespeople protect themselves at work; 57% made at least one potentially lethal mistake when trying to identify how to work safely around asbestos.

Asbestos can be contained in walls, ceilings, floor tiles, boilers and pipe work insulation in buildings built before 2000. Tasks that tradespeople frequently engage in, including drilling holes and sanding down surfaces, can produce lethal levels of asbestos dust.

The HSE campaign includes a downloadable app aimed at improving industry awareness of asbestos and identifying appropriate means of protection, but has been criticised by health and safety professionals and experts in asbestos removal because it could be interpreted as undermining current standards of asbestos safety precautions.

Even low level asbestos exposure can lead the fatal cancer, mesothelioma.

Ian McFall, head of the asbestos litigation team at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This HSE survey highlights serious misunderstandings which still surround asbestos exposure and are a grave concern.

“The downloadable app has come in for particular criticism from health and safety experts for potentially encouraging a less cautious approach to handling asbestos in some circumstances compared with previous guidance.

“It is of paramount importance that workers are educated about the dangers of asbestos and that employers comply with safety regulations.

“The control and management of asbestos requires a high standard of training, and work should not be undertaken unless the proper safety measures are in place.

“The number of deaths from mesothelioma, the fatal cancer caused by asbestos, has still yet to peak despite the import and use of asbestos being banned in the UK. A further 60,000 deaths are predicted in the next 30 years due to the effects of past asbestos exposure"