Exposure to asbestos, protection of the public and justice for mesothelioma victims were key issues being variously discussed just a day apart in early September at the TUC Congress and the Houses of Parliament.

Reinforcement of asbestos awareness to the potential health risks, adherence to asbestos disposal regulations and liability for paying mesothelioma compensation fees in successful cases continue to be sources of stress and suffering for those men and women who are directly affected by contact with asbestos.

Mesothelioma legislation promise

On the 8th September at TUC Congress House, Kate Green, Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions addressed the assembled trade unionists and asbestos victims, promising key actions a Labour government would take if they won the election in May 2015.

Most notably, a consultation would take place if the current government removed the legal fee exemption for victims who win their mesothelioma claim. The minister also pledged to impose by law, a 3 per cent levy on insurance companies to fund the Mesothelioma Scheme, which is aimed at ensuring victims would receive 100 per cent of damages as well as funding research into mesothelioma treatment and finding a cure.

Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed by the inadequacy of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS), which began in July 2014. Among the shortcomings was the lack of provision for mesothelioma research funding. Further concern has also grown over the introduction of the Legal Aid Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2013 (LASPOA), which would make it the claimant who must pay the fee, even if they are successful and win their case, accompanied by government second thoughts on an exemption for mesothelioma victims, currently subject to review.

Asbestos problem in high street stores

It was another Labour minister, Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool, Walton who, on the following day, 9th September, introduced a debate on the current asbestos problem in the public domain at the Houses of Parliament.

Focusing on three areas, Rotheram highlighted deficiencies in the adequate assessment of the scale of the asbestos problem in high street stores, the enforcement of regulation and public protection provision by the improvement of asbestos waste removal. The MP also raised the question of the often observed lack of a ‘duty of care’ by employers and building contractors whose main priority often appears to “get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible.”

Time and time again, court prosecutions find building firms wilfully negligent in carrying out the legal procedures required in the potential handling of asbestos materials. Several high profile cases involving leading brand retail stores have recently brought to the public attention the deep concern over on-site procedures for asbestos removal.

The Liverpool MP read out an on-site witness statement, which refers to contractors “working on and within ceiling voids where the ceiling tiles were made of asbestos insulation boards”, and “ operators rubbing and pushing against asbestos tiles, both damaged and broken asbestos fillets…”

The statement went on to say that he could not find any history of health and safety information or instructions having been issued. The impression received was of “severe pressure and constraints on all contractors to get the job done at any risk…” In his opinion, “the shop floor would have been contaminated with asbestos, thereby placing the public at risk… on many occasions would have left the store having purchased contaminated goods.”

Asbestos training initiative

Mr Rotheram stated that the last asbestos training pledge initiative took place from September 2011 to November 2011 and asked whether a government campaign is overdue. However, there are fewer than 150 Health & Safety (HSE) inspectors engaged in monitoring the removal of asbestos throughout the whole country and who would spend only one day a fortnight on site inspecting its licensed removal.

In conclusion, Rotheram said there should be “an annual inspection of every commercial store in Britain to analyse in detail the property’s safety and to ensure the removal of any disturbed asbestos that has been identified.” The key aim would be to “eliminate incidents in which asbestos is left in restricted areas for decades. For some employees, customers and contractors who may have been exposed to asbestos, however, it would come as too little, too late.”