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Asbestos Related Diseases: The Statistics

Health and Safety Executive

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) periodically releases statistics about asbestos related diseases in the UK. The HSE’s latest statistics report, based on data for 2020, was released in the summer of 2022 and makes worrying reading for anyone who has been exposed to asbestos dust.

The majority of asbestos diseases are caused by exposure to asbestos materials at work many years ago. The HSE confirms this with a comment in its report that “All asbestos related diseases typically take many years to develop so current statistics reflect the legacy of past working conditions”.

Background: Asbestos Use

The use of asbestos materials was extensive in the UK for many decades, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact many buildings today still contain asbestos materials which were installed many decades ago. All of those asbestos materials were prepared and fitted by workers who would likely have been breathing in the asbestos dust, as most of those workers were not provided with any proper breathing protection by their employer. Many workers would have been going about their own work in areas in which colleagues cut up or removed asbestos materials, meaning that even if they were not handling asbestos materials directly, they too would have been breathing in the asbestos dust. Even workers who just walked through areas where asbestos materials were being used or disturbed are at risk of having inhaled asbestos fibres.

Unfortunately, a percentage of these workers will develop one of the five recognised asbestos related diseases. In addition, some family members of those workers will also develop asbestos related diseases as a result of breathing in dust from asbestos contaminated work clothes innocently taken home.

Asbestos Related Conditions

The five recognised asbestos related conditions are:

1. Pleural plaques;
2. Pleural thickening;
3. Asbestosis;
4. Asbestos related lung cancer;
5. Mesothelioma.

In addition, although a pleural effusion is not in itself an asbestos related condition, it can be caused by an underlying asbestos related disease. Therefore, if you know you have been exposed to asbestos dust, you should let your doctors know about that exposure if a pleural effusion is mentioned to you.

Asbestos: The Killer Mineral

Our specialist Asbestos Team members see first-hand on a daily basis the devastating effect historic asbestos exposure has had, and will continue to have, on many families. As such, it is not an over-reaction or dramatic to say that, without question, asbestos is a killer. For those who do not accept asbestos is dangerous to health or those within the insurance industry who try to play the risks down, the HSE statistics speak the truth.

The HSE confirms that there are currently over 5,000 asbestos related disease deaths per year in the UK. Read that again – over 5,000 people who are dying each year from previous asbestos exposure. That is just shocking and those responsible for allowing those deaths to happen through historic exposure to asbestos at work should hang their heads in shame.

About half of those deaths – 2,544 people – are due to mesothelioma. The only recognised and confirmed cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung and is, regrettably, always fatal. There is no cure for mesothelioma, although medical breakthroughs in recent years have led to new treatments being available which can make a real difference to some people by way of quality and length of life.

The HSE confirms the 2,544 mesothelioma deaths in 2020 is a 6% rise in deaths compared to the previous year, 2019.

For those who will develop an asbestos related disease, symptoms won’t start until many decades after the exposure took place. This will be at least 10 years after exposure but often is more like 50 or 60 years later, with no upper limit on that time. The HSE confirms that about two-thirds of the deaths from asbestos diseases occur in men and women aged over 75 years.

Mesothelioma Affecting Women

Whilst asbestos exposure is seen by many as something which only affects men, the statistics prove this to be a misconception.

In 2020, there were 459 women who died from mesothelioma. This is a 7% increase on the figures for 2019. It is likely this increase in female related deaths will be due to the increase in numbers of women who went out to work between the 1960s and 1980s and who were exposed to asbestos dust at their workplace – typically schools, hospitals, factories and shops – as well as women who were exposed to asbestos fibres through their husband unknowingly bringing home asbestos dust on his work clothes.


During 2020, there were 530 recorded deaths from asbestosis. Asbestosis is only caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.

In order to develop asbestosis, the victim needs to have suffered a very high level of exposure to asbestos dust and exposure at this level would normally only occur in an employment setting. The very fact people are still developing asbestosis demonstrates the blatant disregard employers had for the health and safety of their employees, not only by allowing them to come into contact with asbestos materials, but also by allowing extensive and prolonged exposure.

Asbestos Related Lung Cancer

Many lung cancers are caused by smoking. However, it is also possible for some lung cancers to have been caused by exposure to asbestos dust. Unfortunately, many people are missing out on compensation payments and DWP benefits payments because it is assumed their lung cancer is due to their past smoking, and their previous asbestos exposure isn’t even thought about.

The HSE estimates that for every mesothelioma death, there is probably an asbestos related lung cancer death too. In other words, it is likely that asbestos exposure is in fact responsible for about 2,500 deaths per year in the UK where the cause of death is lung cancer.


There is no getting away from the fact that asbestos related deaths will continue. Due to the UK’s huge historic use of asbestos materials, there are many people who have yet to be diagnosed with an asbestos related condition because of that previous contact with asbestos many decades ago.

It is important that anyone who develops an asbestos related disease has the best legal support at what will be a very difficult and challenging time in their life. At Hodge Jones & Allen we have a specialist Asbestos Team – everyone in the Team is dedicated to helping asbestos disease victims and their families to ensure they are given a top level of legal service, as well as assistance in claiming DWP benefits. Our Asbestos Team has three partners who between them have 80 years’ worth of experience in dealing with asbestos disease claims.

We urge anyone who has been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, or who has lost a loved one because of asbestos exposure, to make contact with us. All of our asbestos disease claims are dealt with under a “no win, no fee” agreement, meaning there is no financial risk in pursuing a claim.

If you require legal advice in relation to seeking compensation for an asbestos disease you are suffering from, or are considering making a claim for a loved one who has passed away from an asbestos disease, contact our specialist and dedicated Asbestos & Mesothelioma Compensation Team on 0808 115 3177 for confidential and expert advice.