As a low cost source of heat insulation and a fire retardant, there was no end to the variety of products that asbestos material was used for during the UK’s peak periods of manufacturing with the deadly mineral.

However, there was almost an uniform lack of information provided by employers or asbestos awareness by many thousands of workers to the fatal health risks of daily exposure in the asbestos-using factories, assembly plants and engineering works around the UK.

Even though the banning of the more lethal types of blue and brown asbestos only started to be introduced from the middle of the 1980s, the less toxic but still high risk white asbestos continued to be used in a variety of ways.

Right up until the 1980s and into the 1990s, asbestos fibres were commonly used in the manufacturing of rope, sheet and packing materials. The end products were extensively used as gaskets or seals to fill the space between two adjacent surfaces and protect from heat escaping and also to contain fire.

Asbestos rope and packing may be found to line the inside and joining surfaces of boilers, heaters, furnaces, oven doors, windows, pipes and joints, generators and other high temperature machinery, equipment or instruments.

Asbestos sheet packing was commonly used in industries like chemical plants, power plants, shipyards and on ships and vessels to protect equipment exposed to high temperatures.

Sheets of asbestos fibres would be mixed with a binding material and then compressed to form sheet packing, which was cut into the required shapes and sizes for use as gaskets and packing in engine parts such as pumps, gears, valves and joints to withstand steam, high pressure, water, oil and other chemicals.

Knowledge of the use of asbestos in building materials such as insulating board, surface coatings, wall and ceiling tiles have become more well known in recent years as a result of constant awareness campaigns by organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, the many other types of asbestos insulation applications, such as rope packing and sheeting were handled by many men and women employed where asbestos containing products were being made, stored or transported.

The slightest damage caused by handling releases fibre dust into the surrounding air and is easily inhaled. Once ingested, the fibres lodge permanently in the linings of the lungs, causing scarring and can eventually turn the tissues cancerous.

The long gestation period from first breathing in of the fibre dust to eventual appearance of asbestosis symptoms is between 15 to 50 years.  Consequently, a legacy of suffering from asbestos-related disease continues to this day with an average of 4,000 mortalities, and 2,000 deaths from the incurable asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.