Secondary exposure to asbestos continues to claim the lives of the wives, children and other family members of male workers who were employed in industries where they came into regular close contact with asbestos materials. Today, asbestos awareness of the health risks of direct exposure today tend to be focused on the construction trades and demolition contractors whose shocking disregard for proper disposal procedures make regular courtroom hearings.

However, it is the less well-known tragedies of ordinary families who lose their loved ones to mesothelioma cancer because decades earlier they sat on their father’s knee when he returned home at the end of the day in his work clothes or helped to clean overalls, boots or even washed and combed his hair.

The long gestation period of asbestosis disease has meant that many thousands of innocent victims who breathed in fibre dust particles, invisible to the human eye, would only begin to suffer the early asbestosis symptoms of breathlessness, a chronic cough or chest pain between 15 to 50 years or more later.

Success in a mesothelioma compensation case for secondary exposure has traditionally been more difficult simply because the sufferer has not been directly exposed to asbestos at the defendant’s workplace.

An innocent victim…

A recent case of secondary exposure is a not an uncommon example of the challenges facing innocent victims of the deadly disease.

The wife of a Derby roofing contractor who regularly handled asbestos insulation more than forty years earlier, began to suffer from increasing tiredness, shortness of breath and a severe cough. A visit to her GP confirmed a diagnoses of pleural thickening – the scarring, calcification, and/or thickening of the pleura (the lining surrounding the lungs) caused by the tiny inhaled asbestos fibres brought home on her husband’s work clothes.

In the subsequent asbestosis claim, the original employers were traced but, not surprisingly, were reluctant to accept liability for any negligence, which indirectly led to her exposure to the asbestos fibres. Every case will depend upon its own specific facts and individual circumstances relating to what a particular employer knew or should have known at the relevant time.

Foreseeable risk…

However, it is established in law that the family members of workers who suffer with mesothelioma can succeed in claims against the employer where they are able to show that the employers should have been aware it was foreseeable that the workmen would go home with asbestos on their clothes. Eventually, the former employers did accept that they were responsible and an out-of-court settlement was agreed.

White chrysotile asbestos fibres were still being used in building insulation materials, such as wallboard, infill, lagging, sprayed surface insulation, roofing sheets and tiles right up until the closing years of the twentieth century and an import ban was finally introduced in November 1999.

Thousands of workers were regularly exposed and also brought home their fibre-contaminated clothing, which ultimately caused the tragic loss of life to asbestos-related diseases by their family members decades later.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have estimated there are at least 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths recorded every year in the UK.