According to a study by the Institute of Cancer Research, UK mesothelioma mortality is the highest worldwide.
Historically, men were more often employed in roles which placed them in direct contact with asbestos than women. Consequently, more men contract mesothelioma and other asbestos related cancers than women. This has led to a false assumption that asbestos-related diseases are contracted by men only. Sadly, women are at risk too.
With the number of people diagnosed with conditions like mesothelioma expected to peak during this decade, awareness of the diseases caused by asbestos is more important than ever. The impact that asbestos has on women, either from working with the substance or coming into contact with people who did, needs to be more widely understood.
Our introduction to the topic covers these key points:
- Indirect exposure to asbestos
- Exposure at Work
- What can I do?
1. Indirect exposure to asbestos
Most women who are diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer have not had direct exposure to asbestos but are deemed to be victims of 'second-hand' asbestos exposure.
This kind of exposure occurred most commonly when men were working in industries that made widespread use of asbestos. Unaware of the dangers of asbestos because of improper training and safety measures, men would bring asbestos dust home on their clothes, exposing their families. Often the person who washed the work clothes would become an asbestos victim, as the process of shaking out and laundering the clothing meant that carcinogenic asbestos particles were released into the air. These are what are sometimes known as 'dad's overalls' cases.
2. Exposure at Work
The dangers of asbestos have been well-known throughout the 20th Century and yet, in many workplaces, employees were illegally exposed to the substance. Below are some examples of places that women may have wrongfully come into contact with asbestos a work.
During World War Two, many women took on work outside the home for the first time, adopting roles that had previously been reserved for men.
Since then, women have worked in all occupations, including roles that are well-known as being associated with exposure to asbestos such as factory, automotive, construction, engineering and industrial work. For decades, asbestos was commonly used in hundreds of industrial, commercial and household products. Their work put women into direct contact with asbestos dust and placed them at risk of developing asbestos-related cancer later in life.
Read more about asbestos exposure in a factory environment.
Women are also at risk from exposure to asbestos in less obvious occupations. The majority of school buildings constructed in the post-war contain asbestos and there have been around 250 reported cases of school teachers or school support staff dying from asbestos-related diseases after being exposed in the workplace.
As children are more vulnerable to the effects of asbestos than adults, it is likely that many thousands of children have also been unwittingly exposed to the effects of asbestos at school. Worryingly, there are a growing number of legal cases being brought by people who believe they were exposed to asbestos as pupils.
Other occupations of concern
With the high prevalence of asbestos in earlier decades, women can be at risk of asbestos exposure in almost any industry. There have been cases of bakers developing mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos in and around ovens, and women who have served in the fire service, police, or as emergency personnel encountering asbestos during a fire or other disaster. Office workers have been known to be exposed during renovation of their workplaces.
3. What can I do?
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos related illness, then the law may be on your side for claiming compensation.