Letter: Workers at risk as companies escape prosecution

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Sir: Congratulations on your excellent, but horrific, account of the death of industrial radiographer William Neilson ('Worker killed by record dose of radiation', 9 May). Clearly both his employers and our industrial health and safety police, the Health and Safety Executive, failed tragically to protect his health from the most well-known health hazard of all: radiation. I fear for the safety of the other 8,000 registered industrial radiographers.

But there is an even bigger industrial safety scandal taking place. At least 10,000, and maybe 100,000, workers (no one knows the exact figure), are employed in the asbestos removal industry. Recent studies, by Professor Julian Peto, have shown that cancers from asbestos exposure are set to rise, for the next 30 years, to about 9,000 a year. In Professor Peto's words, this is 'far and away the most important occupational cause of cancer'.

Nine hundred companies are registered to remove asbestos, and perhaps 50 can do it safely; if the tender price allows. The more responsible managers of asbestos removal companies tell me that inspection of their work by an HSE inspector is a very rare event. The asbestos licensing scheme itself is administered by just two HSE inspectors, both of whom are near retirement age.

Who is the HSE protecting?

Yours sincerely,


Senior Lecturer

Centre for Industrial and Environmental Safety and Health

South Bank University

London, SE1

9 May