The figures were released just weeks before the UK is due to mark the 20th anniversary of the ban on the use and import of asbestos, and show this toxic substance has left a legacy for women, not just as grieving widows, sisters, daughters and friends – but as direct victims of asbestos-related disease too.

Mesothelioma is a fatal form of asbestos-related cancer that can take a minimum of 10 years to appear but has no upper time limit. Men are typically considered to be more at-risk of developing the disease as exposure often occurred in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, construction, shipbuilding and other heavy industry.

Of the 2,526 mesothelioma deaths recorded in Great Britain in 2017, 439 were women. This equates to approximately one in every six, and is consistent with previous years.

An analysis of HSE mesothelioma mortality rates among women figures by leading asbestos disease solicitors, Thompsons Solicitors, found the disease was particularly prevalent in certain professions including:

• Administrative occupations including book-keeping, bank and post office clerks and secretarial roles (combined 286 recorded deaths)
• Cleaners (98 recorded deaths)
• Sales assistants and retail cashiers (84 recorded deaths)
• Care workers and home carers (75 recorded deaths)
• Primary and nursery education professionals (61 recorded deaths)
• Nursing and midwifery (46 recorded deaths).

“It is a common misconception that asbestos diseases only affect men who worked in factories or industry. These figures shed new light on the risks facing women – particularly those working in the teaching or caring professions,” said Helen Tomlin, from Thompsons Solicitors, the law firm that fought the first ever successful asbestos disease claim in the House of Lords, in 1972.

Legislation was implemented on the 24 November 1999 to ban the use and import of asbestos in the UK. The law recognised the serious health risk posed by asbestos within public buildings, like schools, hospitals and libraries, and introduced an ‘explicit duty’ for owners of non-domestic properties to find out whether their premises contains asbestos, assess the risks and act proactively to manage them.

“Despite being banned for two decades this Sunday, asbestos is still present in many public buildings: council offices, schools, hospitals, libraries – the list goes on. For that reason, we are saddened but not surprised to see certain female-dominated professions, like teaching, social care and nursing, emerging with high rates of mesothelioma deaths in these latest figures,” continued Helen.

Mesothelioma-related deaths have been on the rise in both men and women since the late 1960s however, in recent years have hovered around the 2,500 average per annum.

“The devastating impact of asbestos cannot be overstated. Generations of men were let down and lied to by employers about the risks they faced at work, and even today we’re still bringing insurers and employers to book over their role in exposing people as far back as the 50s and 60s.

“There have already been tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. But what we may be facing now is a new wave of asbestos-related deaths – this time among women – and that needs talking about,” argues Helen.