Asbestos now kills a staggering 3,000 people a year in Britain – worldwide, the death toll can only be guessed at. The first clear case of death due to asbestos appeared in the medical literature in 1924. Since then, capitalism has done all it can to hide the truth from workers. First we were told asbestos was safe, then that only blue asbestos posed a danger, then that while all asbestos is dangerous, it is only when you are exposed to large amounts. Only recently, have they finally admitted that asbestos kills and that there is no safe level of asbestos dust in the atmosphere.

The truth may be out, but the corporate campaign to deceive continues. It is now clear that companies and a scientist lied about the dangers of asbestos in a similar manner to how they lied about tobacco, but on a bigger scale. Asbestos is treated more like disease than a preventable industrial injury. It helps that the victims tend to be older and up to a quarter are ex-building workers. No media glamour stories there. Just working class males struggling to breathe, getting by on welfare or state pensions.

The threat posed by asbestos has not gone away. As many as 1.5 million work places in Britain contain asbestos in some form or another. Yet the danger posed by it is rarely mentioned. Legally, every employer should have carried out a risk assessment, which includes assessing the asbestos risks. In reality, they often ignore health and safety law. After all, it is the cheapest option. Even when they knowingly expose workers, typical fines are as low as £1,000.

Clearly, appealing to managers is futile. The only way of avoiding the danger of asbestos is for workers to take matters into their own hands. Whether in a union or not, you have the right to be consulted by management regarding health and safety. Raise the matter with your safety rep. If you do not have a safety representative, discuss it with people at work and ask management for copies of the building risk assessment. See if the building has been checked for asbestos. If not, request that a survey be carried out. New laws will soon come out which will compel management to find out whether asbestos is present in the workplace. Make sure management abide by them.

If asbestos is discovered, do not accept the nonsense that it is somehow safe if not disturbed. Do not fall into the trap of thinking only manual workers can be affected. Office workers are as much at risk- when new computers are being installed or during office renovation, it is not only those doing the work who are exposed to the dust. Even without any works, air conditioning and other air circulation systems will spread any dust around. Remember what is at stake, asbestos kills - make sure you are not its next victim.

Write to catalyst for a full & frank answer to a problem at work. Or contact the ansaphone helpline for advice - 0161 232 7889 Catalyst, SF, PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester M15 5HW

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