Who is at risk? A mesothelioma checklist

Asbestos and its associated dangers have been the focus of much media attention in recent years.  We have discussed at length on this blog, the dangers of mesothelioma, a deadly, incurable disease, which is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.  

But how at risk are you to being exposed to asbestos and contracting mesothelioma?  There are many contributing factors, and here we look at gender, occupation and age, to provide a comprehensive mesothelioma risk checklist.  

Gender and Occupation

Mesothelioma is a disease that much more commonly affects men than women.  As exposure to asbestos is the only proven cause of the disease, and because exposure to the substance has historically occurred in the workplace, men currently performing certain jobs, or who have performed certain jobs in the past, are more likely to be affected.  These include roles linked to lagging, insulation and heavy industries.  Below we look at the occupations carrying the highest and medium risk for men, with the mesothelioma death count between 2002 and 2010 shown in brackets.  

Highest risk for men:

  • Construction tradesman (1,811)
  • Electrical tradesman (789)
  • Plant and machine operatives (555)
  • Metal machining, fitting and instrument making trades (476)
  • Transport drivers and operatives (474)

Medium risk for men:

  • Building tradesman (406)
  • Metal forming, welding and related trades (355)
  • Managers and proprietors in other service industries (310)
  • Elementary construction occupations (257)
  • Production managers (246)

Although mesothelioma is more common among men than women, females are still at risk - with those in certain occupations at greater risk than others.  Those working in secretarial and cleaning roles, for example, are at a greater risk as the heavy industries that have historically generated both a predominantly male workforce and that gender’s highest exposure to asbestos, regularly had female support staff who have also been exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres which cause mesothelioma.  

Highest risk for women:

  • Secretarial and related occupations (130)
  • Elementary cleaning occupations (119)
  • Sale assistants and retail occupations (107)
  • Healthcare and related personal services (96)
  • Elementary process plant occupations (80)

Medium risk for women:

  • Teaching professions (68)
  • General administrative occupations (68)
  • Health associate professionals (55)
  • Financial administrative occupations (54)
  • Assemblers and routine operatives (53)


The highest incidence rates of mesothelioma are among older people.  Indeed, risk of the disease strongly increases with age - while around two in three people with mesothelioma of the chest are 65 or older, the disease is rare in people under the age of 45.  

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive - for the 41-year period between 1970 and 2011 - have shown the differences in the magnitude of rates between the different age groups for both men and women.  


  • Aged 35-44: Increasing trend in earlier periods, but a downward trend since the early 1990s
  • 45-54: Increasing trend in earlier periods, but a downward trend since the early 1990s
  • 55-64: Slight increase in rate over time, but a fall after the peak of 2000-2002
  • 65-74: Steady increase in rates since 1970, but a fall in recent years
  • 75 and over: Continued upward trend over time, maintaining the highest rate throughout


  • Aged 35-44: Fluctuations over time, with 2011 levels below 1970 levels
  • 45-54: Fluctuations over time, yet rates have not reduced as strongly as for men
  • 55-64: Slight increases in rate over time, but any reductions not as strong as for men 
  • 65-74: Steady increase in rates since 1970, with the 2011 rate the highest of all age groups
  • 75 and over: Steady continued upward trend over time

What conclusions can we draw?

Based on the above, it is clear that older men who have worked as construction tradesmen are the most at risk of mesothelioma.  However, the risk may be significant for all older men in all of the occupations listed.  For women, trends have taken similar paths as for men, and the females most at risk are those aged 65 and over who have worked in secretarial and related occupations.  

However, it is not just workers in these industries who may be at risk of contracting mesothelioma.  The number of mesothelioma deaths has been on the rise in part due to the heavy use of asbestos as a building material for much of the mid to late 20th century.  This means hospital patients, university students, customers and visitors to retail premises, as well as school pupils, may all face exposure, as may those living in council houses and some private dwellings.  

While the occupation and age trends appear fairly clear-cut, these environmental factors mean that the risk of contracting mesothelioma is not quite so black and white.  Even low levels of asbestos can lead to an individual developing mesothelioma.  With more than 2,500 people a year dying after being exposed to the substance, it is certainly not an issue to take lightly.  If you note any changes to your health, particularly shortness of breath which has caused difficulty doing daily activities, and you have been in an environment where you have potentially been exposed to asbestos, you should get checked out by a qualified medical practitioner immediately.    

Alternatively, if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, it is essential that you seek legal advice as a matter of the utmost urgency.  If you’d like to chat about any of these issues, I’d be more than happy to speak to you.  You can speak to me on 0800 054 6570, or email me on andrew.lilley@jmw.co.uk .  

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