The success of a mesothelioma claim can be dependent on showing that an employer failed to provide adequate protection to their workforce, which would have minimised the risk of breathing in asbestos fibre dust. A court will also consider that “on the balance of probabilities” it was likely that a victim’s mesothelioma was caused due to exposure to asbestos during the period when the claimant was employed at a company.

Even if a victim can be shown to have been exposed to asbestos at more than one company over their working lifetime, they or their families are often able to recover 100 per cent of compensation awarded from just one defendant who was shown to have made a “material contribution” to the risk of the development of the condition.

Today, in an increasing number of mesothelioma compensation cases, a former employer or their insurer will make an out of court settlement. Time and time again, statements are heard in which the victim refers to a complete absence of any measures, such as a breathing mask or other protective equipment to prevent exposure when working with or in close proximity to asbestos materials. Former work colleagues may also provide their accounts of regularly working in “clouds of asbestos dust” at their former workplace.

Employer made increasingly responsible for protecting their workforce

Ever since the first Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, which were mostly restricted to the main asbestos manufacturing processes in textile manufacturing, the employer has been made increasingly responsible for protecting their workforce from asbestos exposure. Despite of the overwhelming medical evidence, there was a widespread lack of asbestos awareness to the long term health risks throughout British industry, often due to employer neglect.

Under The Factories Act 1961, the first “quantitive” control levels of exposure to asbestos were introduced into the industrial workplace, followed by The Asbestos Regulations 1969, which expanded the statutory duty of employers to ensure that all employees were protected from the dangers of working with asbestos at their workplace. The 1969 regulations applied to every process, which used either asbestos or asbestos containing materials, and aimed to minimise exposure to asbestos dust by the use of ventilation, protective equipment and clothing, and the introduction of improved handling procedures.

The legislation was long overdue. For more than 20 years during the post WW2 period of building construction, more than 170,000 tons of asbestos was annually imported to be used as insulation, fire proofing and material strengthener throughout the construction, shipbuilding and power industries. By 1969, countless thousands of British workers, including those in service / maintenance were likely to have been exposed at more than one place of work during the course of their lives.

Employers required to “provide information” about their workplace

The introduction of The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, not only required employers to “conduct their work in such a way that their employees will not be exposed to health and safety risks” but to also “provide information” to other people about their workplace, which might affect their health and safety. However, it would be another ten years would pass before the first ban was to be introduced.

It is well-documented that the potential for mesothelioma to develop may lay dormant for between 15 and 50 years or more before asbestosis symptoms first appear. The passing of time does not diminish the potential for individuals to develop mesothelioma. While it has always been known that the risk of mesothelioma increases as time continues since a first exposure, the risk of developing the disease is still at the same high level or may even increase.

While there can be difficulties in trying to trace former employers up to 30 or 40 years later, nevertheless, they or their insurers liable at the time, can still be held to account for failing to sufficiently protect their former employees.

The legacy of Britain’s asbestos use continues to inflict fatal suffering on a high number of terminal mesothelioma victims. The Health and Safety Executive say that 2,500 cases of mesothelioma are now diagnosed every year and a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths can be expected until at least 2030.