HC Deb 15 July 1974 vol 877 cc26-7W
Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made with the survey of asbestos workers currently being undertaken by the Department.

Mr. Harold Walker

This survey resulted from a memorandum published in 1968 by the Senior Medical Inspector's Advisory Panel on Problems arising from the use of Asbestos. The objective was to evaluate the results of medical surveillance by means of epidemiological research into the medical effects of asbestos exposure and to measure the effectiveness of dust control methods. The survey was planned in three stages: first, a review, completed in 1971, of information that had already been collected by the pneumoconiosis medical panels of the Department of Health and Social Security in respect of about 100 workers who had been under continuous surveillance for 10 years or more; secondly, the organisation of a unified approach by works medical officers to medical supervision of asbestos workers in the major manufacturers and users; and, thirdly, the extension of this approach to the remaining asbestos workers covered by the Asbestos Regulations (1969).

The medical supervision includes biennial questionnaires and X-rays. The second stage commenced in 1971 and covered over 7,000 workers; the third stage is now beginning, and it is estimated that a further 8,000 workers will be involved. It is as yet too early to draw conclusions from the first two stages.

Environmental dust measurements are being carried out by Her Majesty's Factory Inspectorate in order to relate clinical and radiological changes in workers to the level of exposure to asbestos dust. So far over 700 personal air samples, each taken over a four-hour period, have been analysed. No crocidolite was identified in the samples and the analysis showed nearly 93 per cent. of results were below 2 fibres/ml. Since 2 fibres/ml. is based on an assumption of exposure over a 40-hour working week, these results indicate a high degree of control. In time the medical/environmental survey will show if that standard and the precautions required by the Asbestos Regulations are controlling asbestosis. At the same time, while these special activities are in progress the inspectorate's concentrated effort with routine enforcement of the regulations continues. One thousand two hundred factories are known to use asbestos. All such factories are visited annually and, indeed, more frequently where required by special circumstance. Inspectors now have instruments which enable them to take dust measurements at all visits and our Industrial Hygiene Unit carries out an extensive programme of visits to take more detailed measurements and give specialised advice.

Where there have been significant breaches of the new regulations inspectors are instructed not to hesitate to prosecute and so far 35 cases have been brought successfully before the courts.