Alan Howells

Alan and Anne Howells from Nantymoel planned to do a grand tour of the USA with friends when they retired.

But years of exposure to asbestos while working as a plumber resulted in Alan's death from mesothelioma in 2000 aged just 56. Now Anne is supporting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) national campaign to make tradesmen more aware of the potentially fatal long-term effects of asbestos.

"Alan was always working with asbestos, but the dangers weren't widely known then," said Anne, "He would often come home with asbestos all over his clothes where he had been using it during the day. He would even mix it with his hands to use it as insulation."

After leaving school in 1959, Alan took an apprenticeship and worked as a plumber until the mid 1980s when he became a foreman, and his contact with asbestos was reduced. But it was already too late by then.

"We went on holiday to Lanzarote with our friends and Alan kept saying he had a pain in his side. When we got home, he went to see our GP who referred him to consultant who made the diagnosis. He suffered for 18 months after that," said Anne.

"Alan spoke with his eyes. He always had a light in his eyes. As soon as the doctor gave him the diagnosis it went out and never came back on."

Anne said life fell apart for the couple, their three adult daughters, two grandchildren and friends of the family in the close-knit community of Nantymoel.

"This was a horrible disease. It was like Alan was alive but not living. I don't want any other family to have to go through that. Alan's disease didn't need to be there."

Anne wants today's tradesmen to sit up and take notice of the real danger that asbestos is to them. Just because the use of asbestos has been banned does not mean that the risk no longer exists. There are over 500,000 buildings in the UK that contain asbestos and plumbers, electricians, joiners and tradesmen may come into contact with the material on a daily basis.

"Every year there are still over 4,000 deaths from asbestos related diseases. Any tradesman in the UK could be working where asbestos is present right now."

"Employers need to be aware of the dangers and make sure their workers know what to look for and stay safe. There are lots who still choose to ignore it and think that because they don't suffer immediate ill health that they are alright. They're not," she said.

She also wants workers to take a stand and find out more about the dangers they face and the precautions they should be taking.

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Updated 2023-05-16