Mesothelioma Deaths Up 3 Fold in Great Britain

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published updated statistics on work related mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain. 

The statistics show how the risk of death from mesothelioma for different occupational groups compares to the average risk for all occupations together. 

They have been compiled separately for men and women because the male and female overall average risks are very different. The statistics are based on deaths occurring in the twenty-year period 1980-2000 (excluding 1981). Also included are assessments of changes in the relative occupational risks over time within this period.

Occupations where males had the highest risk of mesothelioma were metal plate workers (which includes shipyard workers) and vehicle body builders (which includes railway carriage and locomotive building). Many of the other high risk occupations identified are associated with the construction industry.

The total number of male mesothelioma cases increased almost three fold over the period from 2,317 in 1980-85 (excluding 1981) to 6,475 in 1996-2000. However, in most cases proportions of mesothelioma deaths across occupational groups have remained stable over time.

Numbers of female deaths are much lower than for males. Typically around 15% of annual mesothelioma deaths are in females. The results for females are therefore less reliable due to statistical variability associated with small numbers of cases within occupational groups. 

Occupations identified as relatively high risk for females included metal plate workers, chemical workers (including process workers), plastics workers and other foremen/labourers (including factory workers).

Typically, there are between 15 and 60 years between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma, which is then almost invariably fatal within one to two years. Recent deaths therefore reflect working conditions of the past, i.e. during the 1970s and earlier decades. The statistics do not represent risks for people currently working in each occupation.

Damien McElvenny, a statistician from HSE’s Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit said, “The figures confirm findings of those previously published which indicate that highest risk occupations for males are those found within industries associated with heavy industrial use of asbestos in the past, for example shipbuilding, railway engineering and the insulation industry.”

The statistics are given in a factsheet available on the HSE website at or as a hard copy on request from Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit, HSE, Room 244, Magdalen House, Stanley Precinct, Bootle, Merseyside L20 3QZ. Tel: 0151 951 3051 / 3479.

Notes to Editors

1. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that principally affects the external lining of the lungs (pleura) and lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It has a strong association with exposure to asbestos dust, and the long latency period between first exposure to asbestos and the development and diagnosis of mesothelioma is seldom less than 15 years and can be as long as 60 years. Mesothelioma is exceptionally rare in the absence of exposure to asbestos.

2. Mesothelioma death statistics for Great Britain are derived from HSE’s mesothelioma register - lung, which comprises all deaths where the cause of death on the death certificate mentioned the word 'mesothelioma'.

3. This data is compiled, analysed and released in accordance with the National Statistics code of practice