WHILE the tragic death of 72 people in the Grenfell inferno threw an immediate spotlight on the criminal disregard of capitalism for human life, a report this week highlights an even more insidious but no less deadly threat to the lives of workers and their children by a capitalist system that places profit above life.
The report, from the think-tank ResPublica, exposes the fact that asbestos, ‘the silent killer’, is present in 1.5 million buildings across the UK. About 6 million tons of asbestos is present with about 80% of schools and 94% of NHS buildings riddled with it.
Asbestos is deadly because fibres are so small that they become airborne and can be breathed in by anyone in the vicinity of the source.
Once inhaled these fibres enter the lungs causing scarring to the lung tissue (asbestosis) or mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer.
Both these conditions are incurable and deadly. But because they take over 25 years to develop into life threatening conditions, throughout the 20th century, the dangers of asbestos were downplayed or ignored by the asbestos and building industry in Britain, America and Europe especially.
After all, the bosses argued in private, what did it matter if workers died at the end of their working lives.
It was only when the trade unions in the US and Britain after the end of the Second World War began to campaign against asbestos that it became a burning health and safety issue.
The international campaign headed by the unions – and fought to the bitter end by the asbestos industry – saw countries finally banning the importation of asbestos.
But as the report reveals, between 1920 and 2000 Europe imported more than 50% of the world’s asbestos with the UK importing more than any other country.
Hospitals and schools are stuffed with asbestos in the UK, which has recorded the highest rates of asbestos-related deaths in Europe.
According to the Health and Safety Executive in 2017 there were 2,523 deaths from mesothelioma and the same number for asbestosis.
5,000 deaths a year, with teachers and nurses 3 to 5 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than the general public.
Since 2001, at least 305 school workers and teachers have died of mesothelioma through asbestos exposure.
The asbestos regulations in Britain are so inadequate that a child can legally be exposed to 10 times as much asbestos fibre than is permitted in Germany. In fact, there are no safe levels of exposure to asbestos fibres but this does not stop the government and industry from insisting that asbestos can be made ‘safe’ by leaving it in place.
According to the HSE: ‘There is only a significant risk if any asbestos already within the building fabric is disturbed’. Complete rubbish, as in very few of these buildings does anyone have the slightest knowledge of where the asbestos is and what condition it is in. Over time asbestos deteriorates and becomes friable (crumbles) releasing its fibres into the atmosphere.
The same happens when anyone innocently drills a hole in a wall right through an asbestos board.
These schools, hospital and public buildings are as much of a death trap as Grenfell.
The director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said allowing this silent killer to sit in an increasing state of decay in our schools and hospitals coupled with the death rates among nurses and teachers was ‘a tragic indictment of the current system of containment and control’.
In fact it is a damning indictment of a capitalist system only about profit, that doesn’t give a damn about deaths for workers and exposing children to a future of lung cancer.
The only way to put an end to this murderous crime against workers and children is to smash capitalism and go forward to a workers government that will end the scandal of asbestos, outlawing it completely and ensuring that every building containing it is closed down and safely demolished and replacement building are built simultaneously.
This can’t be achieved under a system driven by profit but only by a socialist system that puts human life before all other considerations.