Safety campaigners say tradesmen think asbestos is a historical problem and they are not at risk

A new generation of workers will be at risk unless building trades do more to tackle to asbestos, safety campaigners warned today.

Around a quarter of the 4,000 or so people dying from asbestos-related diseases each year in Britain are tradesmen such as joiners, electricians and plumbers, figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed. About 20 lose their lives each week.

More than 35,000 people died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma between 1977 and 2007 across Britain.

The HSE said the numbers dying are increasing. Latest annual figures show that 2,156 people died from the disease in 2007 alone, up 5% on the previous year.

The safety body has launched a £1.2m, month-long campaign to warn Britain’s 1.8 million tradesmen about the dangers they face.

Beginning today, Asbestos: The Hidden Killer will run throughout November and will see more than 500,000 information packs sent out, as well as targeted press and radio adverts.

Steve Coldrick, HSE’s asbestos programme director, said: “With this campaign we can educate today’s workforce about the risks and what action they need to take to protect themselves from this deadly dust.

"If tradesmen are not sure whether there is asbestos present where they are working they should stop and check."

Research shows that tradesmen in particular think that asbestos is a historical problem and they are not at risk, the HSE said.

But asbestos may be present in any building constructed or refurbished before the year 2000, and it is estimated that around 500,000 workplace premises could contain asbestos.

If repair and maintenance work is not done safely it can lead to asbestos fibres being released into the air by drilling or cutting, and workers breathing them in.

The campaign is being backed by the TUC, trade unions, trade associations, training organisations, charities and victim support groups.