Twentieth century asbestos use was at its peak in the UK between the 1940s and 1980s. Asbestos exposure risk was also at its most acute during this period for the many thousands working in heavy industry and the construction trades, including steel manufacturing.

Considered high risk, asbestos exposure occupations and, therefore, most vulnerable to developing an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, steel mill workers may still today be at risk of asbestos exposure because steel mills are often found to contain asbestos, especially if they were built before the 1980s.

Despite a growing asbestos awareness of the dangerous consequences of exposure, the material and its new uses in construction were not finally banned until the 1980s. This means that any steel mill built prior to this time may contain asbestos-containing construction materials, which can still pose a life-threatening hazard.

In addition to being low cost, the high tensile strength, extreme resistance to heat, fire, physical and chemical degradation made asbestos a highly desirable substance. The deadly mineral was commonly added to metals, concretes, plastics and other building materials to produce more efficient insulation and higher temperature-resistant fire-proofing.

The men employed at steel mills would have been working with extremely hot substances or near extremely hot locations and handling machinery with moving parts. All of these types of activities could have brought them into contact with asbestos, added to the many materials and products used in extreme temperature work areas.

Asbestos was used in machinery with moving parts subject to high heat and friction, added to cement insulation used in constructing blast furnaces, lining boilers and steam pipes, and also the many tools used by steel mill workers.

The widespread use of asbestos-containing protective clothing throughout UK industry applied most to steel mill workers where the greatest risk was from exposure to the asbestos woven into the cloth that was used to make protective clothing, including gloves, aprons, coveralls, and face masks.

When protective clothing fabric was damaged by being ripped or torn, the deadly asbestos fibres would be released into the air to be inhaled or ingested. The consequences would only reveal themselves many decades later when, after a long period of dormancy, asbestosis symptoms would first appear.

Thirty to fifty years after first exposure, asbestos compensation cases are being brought to court, often awarded to spouses as the disease would have claimed the life of the victim within months of diagnosis.