Nearly thirty years has passed since the most dangerous forms of asbestos were first banned in the UK in 1985. Many people today, when asked, might possibly only possess the vaguest asbestos awareness of its destructive potential to human health.
Yet for most of the twentieth century, asbestos fibres were a staple ingredient used extensively in more than 300 known products in construction, engineering, manufacturing as a strengthening material, insulation and fireproofing.
Countless thousands of men employed in the shipyards, foundries, railway engineering works, car assembly plants and construction industries around the UK could be exposed to asbestos throughout their entire working lives.
More than one employer may be implicated…
One of the biggest challenges that has always been faced by asbestosis or mesothelioma sufferers is not only for the asbestosis lawyer acting on their behalf to trace original employers or their insurers but also to prove liability of an individual employer and the degree of responsibility towards the employee’s disease.
However, there is no known threshold of asbestos exposure below which mesothelioma cannot occur and it often cannot be conclusively proven whether exposure at a particular defendant’s workplace had caused mesothelioma. Consequently, more than one employer may be implicated in having materially increased the risk of the worker developing the disease through exposure and inhaling the fibres.
A recent mesothelioma compensation case may be taken as a typical example of the common risk of asbestos exposure in any number of industrial workplaces, especially in the north of England, during the peak use years.
Exposure throughout working life…
A 75 year old pipe fitter began working as an apprentice pipe fitter for Cammell Laird Shipbuilders in Birkenhead in 1953 where he was frequently exposed to asbestos dust. Working in the confined areas of boiler and engine rooms where asbestos lagging was prepared by hand and then applied, he would also sweep up the asbestos-containing dust and dirt.
The Liverpool pipe fitter was later employed by a company working at sites in Ellesmere Port, Runcorn and across the North West. The work often required stripping out and removing old asbestos lagging by hand to access pipes, which left asbestos debris on the floor.
As was common throughout British industry during this period, no specialist masks, clothing or other protection were issued to the pipe fitter. Despite the growing medical evidence of the long term health risks, both employers failed in their duty to protect their employee from the dangers of asbestos exposure.
In a thirty year period between the 1950s and the 1980s, the pipe fitter was subject to occupational asbestos exposure. Yet another thirty years was to elapse before asbestos cancer came to be diagnosed.
The long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years from initial exposure to the eventual appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms is well-known but a confirmed diagnosis always brings shock and often devastating consequences upon the unsuspecting victim and their family.
Areas of high incidence in the north of England…
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there has been a fourfold increase in mesothelioma mortalities since the 1980s. Areas in the north of England where shipbuilding was most prevalent and are known to have the highest mesothelioma incidence, include Barrow-In-Furness, Crewe and Nantwich, Eastleigh, Gosport, Hartlepool, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne North Tyneside, Renfrewshire, South Tyneside, Sunderland.