Some of the common themes of mesothelioma and occupational exposure to asbestos, such as manual handling, public building works and lack of PPE, are found in the case of a 75 year old metal worker who installed boilers and pipework during renovations at a hospital in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

While employed as a welder and fabricator at a heating and mechanical services firm between 1960 and 1975, the victim was also involved in pipe extension work and asbestos lagging of the pipes during the construction of a hospital ward.

Little indication of the health risks

As was often the case during the peak period of asbestos use, there appears to be little indication or asbestos awareness to the health risks of exposure, now known to require specialist breathing masks, protective clothing, a sealed environment and time control limits.

Despite enjoying good health throughout most of his life the former heating installer began to experience unusual shortness of breath and was diagnosed with the fatal and incurable mesothelioma cancer more than 35 years after the original period of exposure.

It is often a complete shock for many mesothelioma victims and their families to discover that breathing in asbestos dust so many years earlier, which they may have completely forgotten about, can eventually lead to a devastating asbestosis disease.

First signs of mesothelioma

It is widely recognised that between 15 to 50 years or more can elapse from an initial period of exposure to the first signs of mesothelioma or emerging asbestosis symptoms, such as excessive coughing, inability to catch the breath, unusual sweating, chest pains, etc

Widespread use of asbestos fibres in the production of insulation and fireproofing materials throughout the construction industries was also a standard boiler lining and pipe lagging component in the installation of heating systems in both commercial, industrial and residential properties.

As well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning installers, there were many other trade occupations who were most likely to have direct contact with asbestos materials such as AIB (asbestos insulating board), cement products, floor and ceiling tiles, roofing sheets and sprayed surface coatings. They most frequently include builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, tilers, roofers, painters and decorators.

Inevitably, many who were exposed during the peak period of asbestos use between the 1940s and 1980s were employed in the North of England and the Midlands.

Hidden asbestos

Despite banning the most toxic forms of blue and brown asbestos in 1985, white asbestos continued to be used as a cost-effective insulator for at least another ten years. It has been estimated that there still could be one and half million tonnes of asbestos containing materials either hidden or being managed in public buildings, such as schools, nurseries and hospitals around the UK.

Since the 1980s, there has been a fourfold increase in mesothelioma mortalities (Health and Safety Executive).