We continue to hear at WESolicitors from female employees who were exposed directly to asbestos at their workplace, as well as secondary exposure to their husband’s contaminated overalls or workclothes.

Around one in three females who fall victim to mesothelioma 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. More than 400 female deaths from mesothelioma are recorded each year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Concern is increasing because the age of the woman diagnosed with mesothelioma is often around 60 years old, or sometimes younger. Since 1970, there has been a threefold increase in the overall female death-rate of those aged below 65. This is at least 15 to 20 years younger than the average age of men who were regularly exposed to asbestos at industrial workplaces during the 1960s and 70s, the peak period of Britain’s widespread use of the deadly fibres as an insulating material.

The urgent problem of asbestos in schools, in particular, has increasingly led to calls for action to raise asbestos awareness to the growing problem of female exposure to asbestos at non-industrial environments. The latest campaign involves Clydeside Action on Asbestos (CAA) with a special event in Glasgow on October 14th in which people affected by the fatal, incurable cancer urge action to be taken to help women who have been exposed to asbestos dust. The CCA regularly host a network of support groups across Scotland, from Inverness to the Scottish Borders.

An “assumption” of exposure from asbestos fibres on a husband’s overalls

The charity say that “People’s perception of the disease is that it only affects men who worked in heavy industries, such as shipbuilding”. However, they are “ finding increasing numbers of women who are affected”, pointing out that there is also an “assumption” of exposure from asbestos fibres on a husband’s overalls. As a result, the campaign group believe that woman exposed to asbestos in the ordinary workplace are “often the forgotten victims of asbestos.”

In one recent case, a doctor told a female patient in her 60s that she must have developed mesothelioma from washing her husband’s asbestos contaminated work clothes. However, the reality was that the husband was not employed in heavy industry where he could have been handling or in contact with asbestos. Instead, the victim, herself, clearly recalls working in the offices of a textiles and industrial thread factory but would walk past the factory floor where she would see “open pipes and surfaces covered in dust”.

A mix of between 55 per cent and 100 per cent of asbestos fibres, cement and plaster was commonly used to “lag” the pipework of all types of industrial and commercial premises. However, the insulation would quickly wear and disintegrate, releasing airborne fibre dust and dropping broken-off fragments on the floor.

Did not know a potentially fatal insulation had been used

There have been increasing cases of women who were innocently exposed to asbestos, from teachers, nurses, school and hospital workers to office staff and retail store assistants. Despite of the known links between exposure and asbestos diseases since at least the 1930s and throughout the 20th century, the women received no information or warning. They simply did not know that they worked in environments where a potentially fatal insulation had been used to line the water pipes, heating systems, walls, ceilings, floors and even window sills.

One female college lecturer, who died from mesothelioma aged just 60 years old, did however clearly refer in her statement to working in prefabricated college classrooms constructed from ‘dilapidated’ asbestos insulation board.

Cases heard in court can also include exposures which occurred when asbestos dust was released during renovations at a workplace, such as a department store. In one recent case, a 48 year old woman believed that exposure took place during on-site demolition work between 1983 and 1990 when the first UK asbestos ban was introduced.

As with many other victim support groups, medical and legal experts, for more than 25 years, the CCA has lobbied and campaigned on behalf of all those victims, male and female who have suffered as a result of historical exposure to asbestos. With researchers saying that high fatality rates are expected to continue in the UK until at least 2030 and beyond, the fight for support and justice for asbestos victims must be resolutely maintained.