Today, real objects can be designed on computer at work or at home and instantly “printed” out on demand. The digital age of the 3D printer seems a far cry from the types of machines built for traditional 2D printing on newspapers, books, magazines, posters, textiles, plastics, laminates, etc. It wasn’t so long ago – the 1980s – that printers contained asbestos used to produce gaskets and rollers, and other high temperature insulation components.

In a recent mesothelioma claim, the daughter of a worker employed at a fabric silkscreen printing company during the 1980s was eventually awarded a six figure sum in compensation following her mother’s death from pleural mesothelioma nearly 20 years later.

The legacy of Britain’s use of asbestos for almost every application where insulation and fireproofing was required meant that there was hardly an industry or commercial sector left untouched by the deadly fibres between 1950s and the 1980s. Many victims of asbestos exposure are known to have been employed in shipbuilding, railcoach/vehicle assembly, building and construction, and the power industry.

However, up until the 1980s there were countless thousands of workers who were also regularly exposed to asbestos in engineering and production plants where machinery and equipment used in high temperature processes contained components lined with asbestos. Industrial printing machines are an example where asbestos fibres, which had been ground to a powder were mixed with water to create a paste and typically packed by hand into the empty spaces between the moving parts.

Asbestos insulation in a state of disrepair

Recently, a former female print worker lost her life to asbestos-related mesothelioma cancer of the lung linings in her early 70s. She was employed at the silk screen company between 1979 and retirement in 1996, where she worked on a heating machine purpose-built for drying printed textile products.

The drying machine, which was lined with asbestos insulation board was in a state of disrepair, and gave rise to airborne dust and fibres. In addition, a worn and damaged asbestos cloth was used as a manual conveyor belt to pull products through as they dried, which also caused asbestos dust and fibres to be released when the victim operated the machine.

As is so often reported, the company’s apparent lack of asbestos awareness to the long term risks meant the victim was not supplied with any protective mask or equipment nor warned about the health dangers of asbestos exposure. The potential for developing mesothelioma can lay dormant for between 15 to 50 years before the victim starts to experience early asbestosis symptoms, such as breathlessness, loss of appetite and chest pains.

The former heating machine worker was diagnosed with the fatal, incurable cancer 15 years after leaving the printing works and sadly passed away two years later. Up until her death, the victim had not felt well enough to consider pursuing a claim for mesothelioma compensation. However, the period for bringing a claim for an asbestos-related disease is three years – known as the ‘Limitation Period’. This period begins not at the time when exposure to asbestos occurred but when the symptoms first appear or the disease is diagnosed and linked to asbestos exposure.

Three-year time limit on claim starts from date of death

Where a victim dies before they are able to commence a claim, the three-year time limit will start from the date of the death so that the family may make a claim on behalf of the deceased. However, this is only possible where the three-year period has not already expired during the lifetime of the victim.

Often, the family of a deceased victim will also appeal for former work colleagues to provide their accounts of working conditions at the time when the exposures were believed to have occurred and how asbestos was involved. In the present case, a statement was able to be obtained from another employee who worked at the printing company during the 1980s, which highlighted the poor condition of the heating machine and its asbestos cloth assembly belt.

The former employer’s liability insurers were traced and upon admitting liability an interim payment was made. Terms of settlement were later agreed for further compensation and also an amount to cover the care and treatment received by the victim in the period prior to death.

Britain only introduced the first ban on the most dangerous blue and brown asbestos fibre types in the mid 1980s, at a time when asbestos use in traditional male-dominated industries had started to decline. As a result, female cases of mesothelioma began to be more apparent. The Health and Safety Executive estimate that around one in three female mesothelioma victims were exposed to asbestos either at work or environmentally, both of which have been responsible for the deaths of around 1,200 women since 2008.