Claimants diagnosed with mesothelioma, the fatal and incurable cancer of the lung linings, were almost always exposed to asbestos containing materials they handled directly in the workplace up until the first ban in the mid 1980s. Those most at risk of breathing in the fibre dust particles tended to be construction workers, particularly plumbers, heating engineers, electricians and carpenters, together with shipbuilders, railway engineers, maintenance and other insulation workers.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have previously reported that around 1 in 170 of all British men born in the 1940s will die of mesothelioma and that 1 in 40 of all male cancer deaths are under 80 years of age.

Many properties constructed with asbestos

Even though the most dangerous asbestos types were banned in the UK in 1985, new generations of men who were employed in the building trade after this time were still at risk of exposure simply because so many commercial properties they worked on had been constructed with asbestos.

Over the past fifteen to twenty years, it has been both men and women in their late fifties or early sixties who are increasingly being diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis disease. More recently, mesothelioma and asbestosis claims have come from men who began working at firms after the 1980s where they could still be at risk of exposure to asbestos.

Exposed to asbestos between 1998 and 2011?

In a recent case, a construction worker only in his mid-40s has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Employed at a west country firm between 1998 and 2011 as a steel erector, it is believed he was exposed to asbestos when working on several old commercial properties where he was required to remove downpipes and guttering made from asbestos.

The timescale is within the 15 – 50 year period that is known to elapse from initial exposure to the first appearance of asbestosis symptoms. Even before reaching 30 years of age, those men employed in industrial / trade occupations for ten or more years are also known to have a lifetime risk of 1 in 17 of contracting asbestos-related disease compared to less than 1 in 1,000 in those who have not been exposed.

No protective equipment or training provided

According to the building worker’s statement, neither protective equipment nor training was provided on how to safely handle asbestos to avoid breathing in the fibre dust. Tragically, it’s an all too familiar story that has been recounted by thousands of workers over decades while employed in industries where there was regular and frequent contact with the deadly insulation material.

Despite asbestos awareness campaigns from bodies, such as the HSE and building industry training, the lack of safety provision and disregard of the Control of Asbestos Regulations continues to this day.

Any premises up to 2000 could contain asbestos

It is not always fully understood that the use of white asbestos insulation – still often thought of as ‘low risk’ despite being a Class 1 carcinogenic – continued in the building industry until the end of 1999. Construction trade organisations repeatedly caution that any premises, private or public, built up to 2000 should be suspected of containing asbestos and a full asbestos survey always carried out before any work is begun.

Today, an average of 20 tradesmen – mostly carpenters, electricians and plumbers – will lose their lives every week to asbestosis disease or mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. In June 2014, the HSE reported that the number of mesothelioma deaths had increased by nearly 11 per cent in just one year to more than 2,500 in 2012.

In addition, the HSE suggest that a total of 90,000 cases of diagnosed mesothelioma in Britain forecast between 1970 and 2050 will include around 15,000 employed in the building industry.