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Asbestos Workers Survey

What is the Asbestos Workers Survey?

The Asbestos Workers Survey is a health surveillance study which was established by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1971. The main aim of the Asbestos Workers Survey is to monitor the long-term health of the survey participants in order to evaluate the effectiveness of progressively restrictive regulations to control the risks associated with exposure to asbestos. The findings from the survey form part of the evidence used to inform future decisions.

 

How do asbestos workers become part of the survey?

The survey began by inviting men and women who worked at premises covered by the 1969 Asbestos Regulations to attend a medical examination. During this medical, they were also invited to take part in the Asbestos Workers Survey. If they agreed to participate they completed the survey questionnaire which was sent to HSE for processing.

The 1983 Asbestos Licensing Regulations required those who worked with asbestos insulation or asbestos coating to be licensed, and the 1987 Control of Asbestos Regulations extended the requirement for licensing to all workers exposed to asbestos above a specified action level, regardless of the type of work they did. These regulations introduced statutory medical examinations for all licensed workers. When they attended these medicals, the licensed workers were also invited to enrol in the Asbestos Workers Survey.

Men and women are still being enrolled into the survey to this day, although now they are being enrolled under the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations which superseded all previous regulations. So far, more than 100,000 asbestos workers have agreed to take part in the survey.

The information from the medical examination is kept confidentially by the examining doctor; only the information on the survey questionnaire completed by each participant is sent to HSL for processing on behalf of HSE.

A copy of the current version of the survey questionnaire and accompanying documents, including details of the survey, is available here (PDF, 239 kB).

 

How do we collect information about the survey participants' health?

When a licensed asbestos worker agrees to take part in the Asbestos Workers Survey, they are asked to complete the survey questionnaire. This includes questions about current and past work with asbestos, and about smoking history.

Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer, as well as other benign pleural disease. The simplest way to obtain information on these important health outcomes without creating a burden for participants is to apply to NHS Digital (England and Wales) or National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Survey participants are 'flagged' with NHS Digital or NRS so that they can notify the survey team of any cancers or death registrations among the survey participants. Everyone who agreed to take part in the survey has been 'flagged' in this way with these central databases.

Personal information provided by the survey participants is used to link the survey data with the NHS central databases. The personal information used to create the link comprises: study ID, name, address, sex, date of birth and NHS number (if available). NHS Digital provides the survey team with cancer data on behalf of Public Health England, and mortality data on behalf of the Office for National Statistics. NHS Digital and NRS send the survey team information on the date of the event and the cancer type or cause of death. They also inform the survey team if a survey participant has emigrated. In this way, the survey team can follow up the long term health status of survey participants.

 

How do we use the survey participants' data?

The information collected through the survey questionnaires and from the NHS central databases is only used for medical research purposes, and is treated as strictly confidential. The data are used to compare ill-health and mortality among the asbestos workers with the general population, and to examine differences between groups of workers within the survey population.

The analyses focus on trends over time and differences between groups of workers, to answer questions such as Is the risk of developing mesothelioma among licensed asbestos workers reducing over time? and Is the risk of developing lung cancer for asbestos workers who smoke the same as the risk for those who do not smoke?

The findings are reported in such a way that no individual is identifiable. The Research Reports describing the findings from the study are freely available on HSE's website.

 

What if a participant changes their mind?

If someone agrees to take part in the survey, they can ask to withdraw from the survey at any point in the future using the contact information given at the foot of this page. However, the survey team will keep the information collected up to the time they withdraw from the survey. This is because the information will already be part of earlier analyses and published statistics. These reports do not contain any identifiable data and it is not possible to remove individual data from them.

 

How long will the survey last?

 

The Asbestos Workers Survey is a long-term survey and currently HSE has not set an end date for it. The data collected will be stored securely for 15 years after the end of the survey. Retaining the data for this period ensures that any findings are traceable for a reasonable time after publication.

 

How is the survey funded?

The Asbestos Workers Survey is funded by the Health and Safety Executive.

 

Contacts

If you have any questions at all about the research, please contact the survey team:

Asbestos Workers Survey
Health and Safety Executive
Harpur Hill
Buxton
Derbyshire
SK17 9JN

 

E: asbestos.workers@hsl.gsi.gov.uk

 

Or via the website Contact Form.

 

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