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Monday, 6 June 2011

Monday, 6 June 2011

Fire Fighters at Risk from Asbestos–Related Illnesses

About 4,000 people in the UK die each year from exposure to asbestos in the past, and those who work in the emergency services, continually putting their own lives at risk, may have an even bigger risk of contracting an asbestos-related disease. 

Fire fighters, in particular, have a vastly increased risk of being in contact with, or breathing in deadly asbestos dust. There are many situations where fire fighters will find themselves tackling a large blaze in an industrial location such as a shipyard or a power station, and also in house fires in any town in the UK. It’s impossible to know whether a building that’s on fire has asbestos materials in it during an emergency scenario. This case in point shows that even if the emergency services try to find out in advance of tackling the dangerous fires, those in charge of the sites, or who own the buildings, don’t always reveal the truth.
A ship breaking company in Barrow Haven have recently been prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive for putting its workers lives at risk. They were found guilty of not carrying out a survey to identify lethal asbestos fibres in the working environment. The construction firm being prosecuted had purchased an ex-fishing trawler. The workers were employed to dismantle the parts, using hot cutting equipment, and sell them on for further recycling. When a fire broke out on the ship, the emergency services were called, but although the attending fire fighters asked if there was any asbestos on board, they were told there was not. However, a routine inspection some time after the fire by the HSE, found traces of white and brown asbestos dust on the deck and quayside, from some suspicious materials the inspectors had discovered. The workers on the ship had not been aware of asbestos being present, and had not been told to wear protective clothing either. The same company had also placed the lives of the fire fighters in danger too, although the resulting effects may take from 20 to 40 years to develop. 

Asbestos exposure for fire-fighters and the emergency services is still and ongoing major problem, not least because the deadly substance is generally hidden within walls, floors and ceilings. Although the case here did not involve large quantities of asbestos, and none of the deadliest blue type, it’s still a worrying issue for many fire fighters on a daily basis. They not only face the risks from one off exposure, but repeated and intense exposure to asbestos.

If you’re a member of the emergency services, and are worried that you may have been exposed to asbestos dust during your normal working life, get in touch with Simpson Millar today. We can advise you on the best course of action to take right now. Call us on 0800 634 1626 for an initial chat.


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