Cases where wives or daughters who become innocent victims of asbestosis diseases caused by “secondary exposure” to asbestos more than 40 years ago continue to be reported in 2017.

Alongside environmental exposure, secondary exposure has been estimated to have caused the deaths of around 1,200 female mesothelioma victims since 2008, alongside a threefold increase in the overall female death-rate of those aged below 65 since 1970.

Just ten days into January 2017, the latest victim, who was the wife and daughter to two former workers at a tile factory lost her life to the fatal cancer of the lung linings, aged only 72. Following the shock diagnosis of mesothelioma in August 2015, calls were repeatedly made for former work colleagues to help with describing  conditions on the factory floor at the time.

Work clothes brought home to be cleaned

Up until the most toxic brown and blue asbestos types were banned in the mid 1980s, lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks of inhaling the fibre dust meant that it was common practice for contaminated overalls, work clothes and boots to be brought home to be cleaned.

Every week for at least eight years, the deceased would clean the overalls of both her husband and father who worked together at the same factory where floor tiles were manufactured. Before passing away, she recalled the two men returning from work each evening with their overalls “caked in a fine grey dust”, which she also remembers having to “shake out of the back door to get the dust off before washing them, and turning out the pockets full of the stuff.”

Risk of daily exposure to asbestos fibre dust

During the two peak decades of asbestos use – the 1960s and 70s – more than 3.7 million tons of the deadly mineral fibres were imported into the UK. Around 300 insulation and fireproofing products were in widespread use in all types of industrial, commercial and domestic applications, including all types of floor tiles.

Tragically, in the 18 months of life left to her after diagnosis, it appears that no further information was forthcoming. Many thousands of workers just like her husband and father who were employed in manufacturing industries were at risk of daily exposure to asbestos fibre dust throughout most the middle decades of the twentieth century.

It is also well-known that in many workplaces across the UK during this time there was simply no washing / showering facilities provided, and often inadequate protective equipment or clothing. In some cases, the use of white asbestos continued for at least another ten years before a final import ban was enforced in November 1999.

Asbestos used across an entire interior decorating range

Vinyl floor tiles were extremely popular during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Asbestos was used across an entire interior decorating range and fixing process, including linoleum floor tiles, 9-inch and 12-inch floor tiles (up to 1980), tile adhesive, tile backing paper, and some more recent sheet linoleum.

The ingredients used in the manufacture of tiles usually involved a combination of limestone, plasticiser, stabiliser, binder and pigment. Quantities of up to 3 per cent of loose asbestos fibres were then added, and it’s estimated that 17 per cent asbestos can be still found in plastic materials, including PVC vinyl asbestos tiles, nylon, polypropylene and polyesters.

Floor tiles made from asphalt also combined with a very high percentage of asbestos filler fibres, which could be as much as 70 per cent by weight, depending on the particular mixture of asphalt, asbestos, limestone and pigment used.

Employers can be reluctant to accept liability for secondary exposure

Cases which pursue mesothelioma compensation for secondary exposure have traditionally been more difficult simply because the sufferer has not been directly exposed to asbestos at the defendant’s workplace. Employers can be reluctant to accept liability for any negligence, which indirectly led to the secondary exposure to asbestos fibres.

A further obstacle to a victim of secondary exposure is that a claim cannot be made under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme 2008. However, it is established in law that wives, daughter or other family members diagnosed with mesothelioma can succeed in claims where they are able to show that an employer should have been aware it was foreseeable that an employee would go home with asbestos dust on their overalls or work clothing.