Asbestos was finally banned in the UK in 1999
In the UK, more than 5000 people die each year from asbestos diseases
1.5 million UK buildings still contain asbestos
75% of UK schools contain asbestos


What is asbestos?

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre
  • When asbestos fibres are in the air and can be breathed in, they can lodge in the lungs This can lead to asbestos-related diseases developing many years later
  • Asbestos fibres in the air cannot be seen and have no smell, which means people aren’t aware if they are breathing it in.


What was asbestos used for?

  • Because it is heat resistant and an electrical insulator, asbestos was commonly used in construction, commercial and household products
  • Asbestos was used in insulation for water heaters, air conditioners, heating ducts, boilers, and gas and sewage pipes
  • It was also used in interior wall paint, ceilings, ceiling tiles, wood stoves, fireplaces, window putty, garden sheds, garages, drywall, floor tiles, and carpet underlay
  • Three types of asbestos fibres were commonly used by the construction industry in the UK: blue (crocidolite), which is considered to be the deadliest due to its particularly thin fibres, brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile).


When was asbestos banned in the UK?

  • Concerns about the safety of asbestos were first raised in the UK by factory inspector Lucy Deane, in the 1898 HM Chief Inspector of Factories report
  • While early concerns were widely ignored, reports about the dangers of asbestos continued throughout the 20th Century, culminating in countries around the world beginning to ban the use of the substance
  • The import and use of blue and brown asbestos was banned in the UK in 1985
  • White asbestos was banned in 1999.


Who is at risk from asbestos?

  • The professions traditionally most at risk from exposure to asbestos were those who installed materials containing asbestos
  • This includes carpenters, insulators, boilermakers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, construction workers and shipyard workers
  • The Health & Safety Executive advises that any building constructed prior to 2000 could still contain asbestos
  • The number of UK buildings that still contain asbestos is estimated at 1.5 million. This includes homes, commercial buildings such as offices and factories, and public buildings such as hospitals and schools
  • Asbestos is still present in about 75% of UK schools
  • As people working in places containing asbestos are at risk of exposure, those being exposed today include nurses, teachers and office workers
  • Asbestos is generally only dangerous if disturbed, for example during building work or DIY
  • There is no UK register of buildings which contain asbestos. This means that firefighters or people carrying out repair and demolition work may be exposed to asbestos without warning at any time. Anyone else in the vicinity when asbestos is disturbed is also at risk
  • The HSE estimates that 1.3 million tradespeople are at risk of exposure, and they could come into contact with asbestos on average more than 100 times a year.


Asbestos-related diseases: statistics and facts

  • It usually takes decades for signs of asbestos-related diseases to start showing, so a diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases usually happens 20 to 50 years after exposure
  • Asbestos can cause several types of cancer. The cancerous asbestos-related diseases are mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer
  • Non-cancerous conditions caused by asbestos include asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural effusions, pleuritis, diffuse pleural thickening and atelectasis. Although these conditions are not cancerous, they can still be fatal.


Asbestos deaths: worldwide statistics

  • Asbestos exposure is the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the world
  • According to a 2017 study, around 237,000 people die each year as a result of asbestos exposure
  • Globally, asbestos-related lung cancer causes the most asbestos related deaths, followed by mesothelioma.
global asbestos deaths by disease

Asbestos deaths: UK statistics

  • In the UK, more than 5,000 people die annually as a result of asbestos-related diseases
  • The number of annual deaths linked to asbestos has risen significantly over the past 50 years and is expected to remain steady throughout the 2020s
  • From 2030 onwards, it is hoped that the number of asbestos deaths will begin to decline.


Mesothelioma: UK statistics and facts

  • The UK, along with Australia, has the highest mesothelioma rates in the world
  • People who worked in the building industry during the time asbestos was used extensively are among those most at risk of mesothelioma
  • Data from the Royal College of Physicians found that NHS trusts in former industrial areas had diagnosed the highest numbers of mesothelioma cases in 2014 to 2019
  • There were 2,369 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain in 2019 – this is 7% lower than the annual average number of 2540 over the period 2012-2018
  • Of these deaths, 1,945 were male and 424 female. Male deaths are decreasing while female deaths remain steady
  • More than half of annual mesothelioma deaths occur in people over the age of 75
  • Annual deaths in this age group continue to increase, while deaths below age 70 are beginning to decrease.
Graph showing annual mesothelioma deaths in the UK steadily rising until 2019 where it starts to decline

Asbestos-related lung cancer: UK statistics

  • Asbestos-related lung cancer is one of the most common causes of lung cancer in the UK after smoking
  • Lung cancer is usually fatal within a few years of diagnosis
  • Data suggests that there is an average of one asbestos-related lung cancer death for every mesothelioma death in the UK. Based on this, it is estimated that there are currently around 2,500 asbestos-related lung cancer deaths each year
  • In recent years, there has been an average of around 260 new cases of asbestos-related lung cancer each year, with 240 new cases reported in 2019.


Asbestosis: UK statistics and facts

  • Asbestosis is a form of pneumoconiosis caused by inhaling asbestos fibres
  • Asbestosis cannot be cured
  • Asbestosis can lead to various complications which can be fatal
  • In 2019, there were 490 deaths that mentioned asbestosis on the death certificate
  • Of these deaths, 219 identified asbestosis as the underlying cause of death
  • In the 1970s, there were an average of 100 asbestosis-related deaths per year, showing that deaths have increased significantly over the decades
  • In recent years, 97 to 98 per cent of people who die while suffering from asbestosis are male
  • In Great Britain, male asbestosis death rates increased from 5.5 per million in 1981-83 to 16.8 per million in 2016-18
  • During the same time period, female asbestosis death rates have remained steady, with an average of 0.3 per million per year.


Thompsons Solicitors: the UK’s leading asbestos law firm

  • We brought the first successful case for asbestos-related disease compensation in the UK to the House of Lords in 1972
  • Since then, we have helped tens of thousands of people suffering from asbestos to bring a claim
  • In the last three years alone, we have helped 540 people secure compensation for asbestos-related diseases
  • Thompsons operates the UK’s largest register of asbestos exposure.

To find out more about how we can help you or a loved secure asbestos-related disease compensation, visit our asbestos claims page or request a call back.