The shocking figures of asbestos exposure in the dockyards of Britain’s shipbuilding industry throughout much of the twentieth century often surface when the latest casualty of asbestosis disease or mesothelioma cancer is reported. The case of an 89 year old former Barrow shipyard worker exposed to asbestos linked to his death was mentioned in a May blog.

While occupational exposure to asbestos by workers directly employed in the key manufacturing, construction and engineering industries are often highlighted, it was inevitable that thousands of ordinary men and women indirectly connected to asbestos-using industries were also at risk of contracting asbestos-related disease.

Limited asbestos awareness not only led to the common occurrence of ‘secondary exposure’, where wives or daughters would inhale asbestos fibres contained on the clothes, overalls and work boots brought back home to be washed, which were worn by men who worked around asbestos every day,

There are an endless number of accidental occupational exposures, mostly involving working in public buildings, such as schools and hospitals or commercial properties and factory sites constructed with asbestos insulation materials.

A recent mesothelioma compensation case involved many of the above elements and, which led to the victim being awarded a six figure sum as a result of liability being accepted and breach of duty admitted by the employers for failing to provide proper protective clothing.

The plaintiff, a retired HM Revenue & Customs officer began his career in 1963 based at Gravesend and Tilbury where he regularly went on board vessels to search for illegal contraband in areas like the boiler room where asbestos was present as insulation lining, especially around the pipework. A thorough search often involved the removal of the asbestos linings, climbing on top of boilers covered in asbestos and looking behind pipe work lagged with asbestos.

The exceptionally long gestation period of up to 50 years between exposure and breathing in of the asbestos fibres meant that mesothelioma / asbestosis symptoms only appeared after retirement in 2006.

Between 2006 and 2012, traditional dockyard areas around the Medway recorded the second highest mesothelioma death rate and previous surveys of south coast dockyards found that workers displaying lung abnormalities were up to 3 per cent more likely to have been caused by asbestos exposure.

The widespread inclusion of asbestos fibres as an insulator in many industrial, commercial and domestic products from the 1940s until nearly the end of the 1990s meant that the fatal dangers of exposure could unexpectedly occur to almost anyone.

It is very well known that building industry workers, such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and plasterers are frequently in the front line of exposure when working on premises built before the import of the last type of asbestos was banned in 1999.