2024-03-18 12:43

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100 Years Since First Recognised Victim Of Asbestos Exposure At Work

image: Nellie Kershaw

On March 14th 1924 Nellie Kershaw a 33 year old Mother and textile worker from Rochdale passed away from pulmonary asbestosis, leaving behind a young child.

It is thanks to Dr William Edmund Cooke who recognised Nellie’s case as one of occupational exposure to asbestos and first published it in the British Medical Journal that finally led to the first set of regulations for the Asbestos Industry in 1931.

But her plight was consistently ignored by her employer Turner Brothers with Nellie dying in poverty and buried in an unmarked grave.

The Asbestos Victim Support Group Forum (AVSGF), is a national organisation, founded in 2005, working to bring together support groups from across the UK who provide free and independent support to people with asbestos-related diseases.

On the centenary of the first person recognised as having died from workplace asbestos exposure, the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum is calling on the UK Government to confront the stubbornly high number of deaths still caused by asbestos.

Exposure to Asbestos still remains the no.1 cause of work related deaths in the UK in 2024.

A first step is the implementation of the recommendations in the 2022 Work and Pensions Select Committee report that underlines the need for a national register of asbestos and a timetable for the removal of asbestos from public buildings.

People continue to be exposed to this category one human carcinogen at an increasingly younger age, with death rates for female teachers and nurses rising at a rate that is higher than for the general population. It is estimated that asbestos is present in 80% of schools and 94% of hospital trusts.

This is due to a large number of schools and hospital buildings constructed between 1945 and 1980 using system build techniques, for example CLASP schools, where asbestos is an integral part of the construction and difficult to remove without demolishing the building. Alarmingly the official statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) severely underestimates the risk of exposure and the number of cases mesothelioma for former workers

Emerging evidence suggests there are approximately 87 cases of mesothelioma per year for former hospital workers (over seven times more than the official HSE statistics) and 89 cases per year for former school workers (almost six times as many as the HSE statistics).ii And that there are just over eight cases of asbestos-related lung cancer for each recorded case of mesothelioma. This is much higher than the HSE’s current working assumption of a 1:1 ratio between asbestos-related lung cancer cases and mesothelioma cases.iii As these public buildings deteriorate the numbers will increase.

Commenting on this 100 year anniversary of Nellie Kershaw's death from exposure to asbestos, John Flanagan, Support Officer for the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group said:

“On this day we remember Nellie Kershaw, the first patient diagnosed with asbestosis 100 years ago.

In her memory and for all those who have died since, and the 5,000 plus number of patients who are diagnosed every year with these insidious man-made diseases,  we continue to fight for £10 million for medical research from ALTRAD, owners of Cape, who are responsible for the tonnes of asbestos in society today.

Cape continued producing their Asbestos Insulation Board, known as Asbestolux, for profit, despite their own scientists warning them of the dangers to health.”  

The chair of the Asbestos Victim Support Group Forum, David Ellis said:

“Today, as we mark the centenary of a young Nellie Kershaw’s passing from occupational exposure to asbestos, we are still dealing with cases in the thousands in the UK with a growing number of young people exposed to asbestos.

It remains in the purview of the Government and Health and Safety Executive to act and improve the enforcement of asbestos regulations in the UK and further protect the public. We urge them to re engage in dialogue with the asbestos surveyors and removals industry, alongside those in the third sector, who are supporting victims and their families to deal with the deadly consequences of asbestos exposure."

Joining those marking today's anniversary, the chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Sir Stephen Timms said:

“As we mark the centenary of Nellie Kershaw’s death at only 33 years of age as the first acknowledged victim of occupational exposure to asbestos, the true toll of asbestos is becoming increasingly clear. We are seeing the evidence of exposure in schools and hospitals, and a changing pattern in asbestos related disease.

The all-party Work and Pensions Select Committee has called for a deadline to be set for removing all asbestos from UK workplaces, a national plan to deliver it, be and a central digital register of all the workplace asbestos in the country to enable the plan to be compiled."

[Please note: the Unionsafety E-Library contains over 40 documents with regard to Asbestos in the workplace, and in public buildings including Hospitals and Schools.]

Source: AVSGF / MAVSG / Unionsafety

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