Poignant artwork in tribute to those killed by asbestos unveiled in Covent Garden

Artist Joe Joiner, whose own great-grandmother died after being exposed to asbestos, has been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to create Dust To Dust – an interactive installation unveiled today in the gardens of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden to honour the thousands of people who die every year after coming into contact with the killer substance.

More than 50 grieving family members have added their own personal messages to the piece, created as part of HSE’s Beware Asbestos campaign. The artwork is made up of two huge glass boxes, inside which the messages float around representing a breathing pair of lungs. The messages themselves symbolise the microscopic asbestos fibres that can be unknowingly breathed in if tradespeople do not take the right safety measures to protect themselves. These fibres can prove lethal  causing deadly diseases such as mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer.

Lauren Ross, whose husband Frank, a retired shop fitter from Manchester, died in 2007 just a few months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, wrote in her message: ‘My heart breaks at each new birth and achievement of our children that you can’t share. Losing you and your love hurts every day.’

She added: ‘What really upset Frank was the fact that he must have been bringing asbestos into our house for years, potentially affecting me and our four children. This was something he had absolutely no idea about.’

Mrs Ross and several other contributors have travelled  across the country to attend the launch of this living, breathing memorial. As well as reading the notes written by bereaved family members, passers-by can also add their own tributes to the artwork, which will be on display for two days.

Creator of the artwork Joe Joiner, whose great-grandmother was exposed to asbestos while working in a factory, said: ‘At first I was unaware as to the widespread effects of asbestos and the impact it has on tradespeople, I assumed it was a last-century phenomenon. Only when I started to talk to friends and family about the artwork did more and more instances make themselves known to me – some closer than first thought. The fact so many workers are being affected by this fibrous assassin  is a real problem and needs to be prevented.’

Joe is an award-winning artist and graphic designer from East London who has created a broad range of inspirational schemes for high profile brands including Nike. His firsthand experience of the devastation asbestos can inflict on families has prompted him to take action in warning others of the dangers.

Adam Hills, HSE inspector, said: ‘Asbestos is a very real danger to tradespeople today. In fact, 20 tradespeople on average die every week from asbestos related diseases. This artwork is testament to the devastating impact this deadly substance has on families everywhere and illustrates that it is more important than ever to ensure workers take the simple steps that will help to keep them safe.’

The HSE has created a free web app for phones, tablets and laptops that helps tradespeople easily identify where they could come into contact with the deadly material and gives them tailored help on how to deal with the risks. To get the web app please visit www.beware-asbestos.info/news.

For more information on asbestos safety please visit www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/tradesperson.htm

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