Exposure to asbestos and the breathing in of the airborne fibres, which become permanently attached to the linings of the lungs, abdomen or the heart membrane is a well established and only known cause of the deadly, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

However, positively identifying and proving that asbestos exposure occurred at just one or a number of places of work, and which company employer may be liable for the later onset of an individual’s asbestosis disease or mesothelioma, can be a challenge. A full employment history, which details employment dates and asbestos exposure frequency, accompanied by statements from both a claimant and other supporting witnesses are vitally important in settling mesothelioma compensation cases.

Often exposure to asbestos is not by direct contact but occurred as a result of ‘secondary exposure’. During the post WW2 peak period of asbestos use in UK industries and up until the first ban was introduced in the mid 1980s, lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks of inhaling the fibre dust meant that it was common practice for contaminated work clothes and boots to be brought home to be cleaned by their wives and daughters. Often the hair would also contain the deadly dust, which would be washed and thus, also a source of secondary exposure.

It is not unusual for mesothelioma claim cases for secondary exposure to be brought to court. However, in a recent case where a wife was regularly exposed to breathing in asbestos fibres when she “would snap or shake the fabric releasing dust” from her husband’s overalls and, which eventually led to her contracting malignant mesothelioma, contained an added complication. At the inquest, it was revealed that the victim may have also come into direct contact with asbestos while working as a young teenager at a furniture workshop where it was thought asbestos was present as pipe insulation lagging.

As is often reported, secondary exposure also not infrequently occurs at both commercial workplaces and public buildings built or renovated using asbestos insulation, fire retardant or anti corrosive materials. In the present case, the question is whether the cause of the mesothelioma was due to direct exposure during her time at the furniture shop or as a result of secondary exposure from washing her husband’s work clothes – or a combination of both.

Confusion can arise because of the long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years from first exposure to the appearance of mesothelioma / asbestosis symptoms. Often the disease is confirmed at an advanced stage and life expectancy is likely to be less than 6 months.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed in the UK every year.