A female victim of asbestos exposure who lost her life to mesothelioma in 2017 had worked on the assembly line at a factory making electric plugs for domestic appliances during the early 1970s.

Many people’s asbestos awareness is likely to only extend to the most well-known of materials or products which contained asbestos fibres, such as textured ceilings and ceiling tiles, corrugated garage roofing, and interior wallboard insulation. However, at the height of its use during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, more than 300 products were manufactured in the UK from asbestos fibres, which found their way into all areas of domestic, commercial and industrial life.

One of the most common use of asbestos in all types of residential properties was the insulation and fireproofing of electrical installations and products. Asbestos would typically line the standard household fuse box, electrical boxes behind wall switches and plugs as well as in recessed lighting, within ceiling fixtures, freestanding lamp sockets, cords and wiring. There was even small amounts of asbestos used to line most types of heating appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, toasters, clothes dryers and electric blankets as well as protecting the heating coils in heaters, irons and hair dryers.

The former female factory worker died only in her mid-60s from the fatal cancer of the lung linings. Her family are appealing to former colleagues at the factory to help with any information they may have about how and where asbestos exposure may have occurred at the time.

Customers would need to buy and fit their own electric plug

The factory, which was based in Greater Manchester, manufactured a range of electrical goods, including cable and plastic mouldings for plugs and car parts. They supplied national high street retailers, such as the now defunct Woolworths as well as many of the top electrical companies, including Hoover, Hotpoint, Zanussi, IBM, Bosch and Epsom. While it’s a legal requirement today that electrical appliances must come fitted with an approved British Standards CE approved plug, during the 1970s most if not all goods were sold with only a length of wire attached which meant customers would need to buy and fit their own electric plug.

Both Morphy Richards and Hotpoint had already approached the company as well as other suppliers about fitting a moulded plug to appliances. By the late 1970s, they had designed and developed a moulded 13 amp plug so when legislation was passed in parliament that all electrical items must be sold with a plug fitted, the factory stepped up production.

The former assembly line worker was only employed at the factory, 1972 to 73, and more than 40 years passed until the summer of 2015 when she started to experience the typical asbestosis symptoms of breathlessness, fatigue and chest pain. A period of between 15 to 50 years can elapse before the potential spread of the cancer may become apparent. Believing that she may have been suffering from the more common respiratory disease of pneumonia, a visit to her GP led to a referral where the consultant confirmed a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Sadly, eighteen months later, the victim passed away.

Cases which involve women aged in their 60s or even 50s

Life expectancy of the fatal incurable disease depends on how early the cancer is detected and the age and relative heath of the patient. Usually for victims in their 70s, 80 or 90s, this may only be between 2 – 6 months but can extend to up to 12 to 18 months or even more in younger patients.

In an increasing number of cases, where the historical source of asbestos exposure at a former workplace is yet to be exactly identified, it is often left to the victim or their family to call for witness testimonies. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that there are at least 8,000 work-related cancer deaths each year, more than half caused by past exposures to asbestos.

A recent Freedom of Information request has found that a high percentage of female victims of asbestos exposure were born in the late 1930s, early 1940s (Health & Safety Executive – HSE). However, there is now an increasing number of mesothelioma cases, which involve women aged in their 60s or even 50s who were occupationally exposed to asbestos during the late 1960s, 70s and 80s. 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.