SoR joins trade unions calling for removal of asbestos from all public buildings 

A coalition of 27 trade unions has penned a letter to all major political parties, urging them to address the ongoing safety hazard 

Published: 09 October 2023 Campaigns

The Society of Radiographers has joined other trade unions in calling for the removal of any remaining asbestos from hospitals and other public buildings. 

In a joint letter, signed by 27 trade unions including SoR, the Royal College of Midwives, and the teachers’ union NASUWT, the unions have called for all major UK political parties to set a 40-year deadline to remove deadly asbestos from non-domestic buildings.

The letter, addressed to the leaders of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats, also urges the parties to include the commitment in their next general election manifestos.  

Rhys Martin, health and safety policy officer at SoR, said: “At the society we have been very much involved in the fight against asbestos and the dangers it creates. 

“Alongside working with our trade union colleagues on this campaign and providing training to our safety representatives to help hold employers to account, we continue to organise Freedom of Information requests to gain a greater understanding of the depth of asbestos issues in the NHS estate. 

“We also continue to work with Mesothelioma UK and experts from the University of Sheffield to create visibility around this key health and safety issue. The MAGS reportin relation to asbestos has made numerous recommendations and we will work hard on this campaign in the lead up to the next general election, where we hope political parties end this legacy in our public buildings.”

According to recent research from the Trade Union Congress, two thirds of NHS buildings in London and Scotland still contain asbestos, despite the substance being outlawed in 1999.

Use of asbestos was made illegal after evidence emerged that exposure to the material causes a rare type of cancer, called mesothelioma.  

The letter from the coalition of trade unions said: “Asbestos exposure is still the biggest cause of work-related deaths in Britain.” 

“Around 5,000 people are dying each year from asbestos cancers linked to work exposure, including from mesothelioma.

“Asbestos is one of the great workplace tragedies of modern times and it is a national disgrace that Britain has one of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates in the world.”

The letter urges politicians to commit to recommendations made by the Work and Pensions Select Committee report ‘The Health and Safety Executive’s approach to asbestos management,’published in April 2021. 

Recommendations include: 

  • Set a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings, focusing on removing the highest risk asbestos first, and the early removal from the highest risk settings including schools;
  • Create a central digital register of all asbestos in non-domestic buildings, describing its location and type.

The letter continues: “We know how seriously you and your party consider the safety of school pupils, hospital patients and all workers who use non-domestic buildings to be.

“The full implementation of the recommendations within the committee’s report is an essential step on the road to ensuring that schools, hospitals and all public buildings are safe from the blight of this insidious cancer-causing material.

“We would be grateful for your support on this critically important issue and look forward to receiving your response.” 

(Image by Richard Johnson/iStock /Getty Images Plus)