A CAMPAIGN has been launched to warn workers of the dangers of asbestos as figures show it killed almost 1,300 people in the South over the last quarter of a century.

Safety campaigners argue that “Britain’s biggest workplace killer”, which led to the shocking death toll between 1981 and 2005, could strike a new generation of workers unless the building trade gets to grips with the hazardous substance.

Asbestos was widely used as an insulating material until the 1970s but can trigger mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, often years later.

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Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show a total of 1,295 men in the south died from mesothelioma over the 24-year period – including 867 in the Hampshire County Council area, 259 in Southampton, 135 on the Isle of Wight and 34 in Salisbury.

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

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

The campaign, backed by trade unions, charities and victim support groups, aims to educate workers about the danger asbestos still presents. Although many believe asbestos is a historical problem and they are not at risk, in fact the substance may be present in any building constructed or refurbished before 2000, and it is estimated that about 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.

Former tradesman Stan Thomas, 71, of Totton, one of Hampshire’s longest survivors of mesothelioma, has told his story for the HSE’s campaign.

He said: “I can’t change the past but if I can stop just one person getting what I have got, it is a winner.”

The father-of-two and grandfather-of-one worked as a heating engineer for 38 years and when he collapsed in December 2005 – four years after retirement – doctors told him he was dying.

Most people are given six to 12 months to live. He has made it into his fourth year.

Now, Stan and his wife Rita have had to adapt to a new life and, as an active member of the Hampshire Asbestos Support and Awareness Group, he hopes to save lives.

He said: “It is all about raising awareness asbestos might be present in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000.

Workers need to be aware that it comes in so many different forms and it can be easily missed.

“My advice is simple – be very wary and look for asbestos and if you do see it get advice. Simply, don’t go near it!

Stan said you only need to remove a screw from an asbestos panel to release a fibre and said just one fibre is enough to kill you. He said: “Irrespective of what others say about the low risk of asbestos, there is no low risk about it.”