“Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.” Health and Safety Executive
What is asbestos?
- Asbestos describes silicate minerals which occur naturally
- Its strength, durability and natural occurrence made it a popular manufacturing material for many years
- When the fibrous asbestos material is breathed in, it can cause a number of lung-related health issues
Asbestos is a natural material which has been used in the UK since 1700s but it became prolific during the Industrial Revolution and remained so until its detrimental effects on health were exposed in the 20th century. The material was used for everything from insulating pipes to manufacturing textiles, and the shipping industry in particular used extensive amounts of asbestos. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the connection between asbestos use and lung problems was noticed and it was another 80 years before it was banned completely in the UK in 1999.
Even though using asbestos is now illegal, the substance is still found in a range of materials and products including:
– Wall cladding or panelling in buildings
– Tiles and tile backing
– Certain types of cement and plastering, such as artex
– Old textiles
– Fire doors
Today, people who work in the construction and building maintenance industry, are most at risk of asbestos exposure, as even though the product is no longer used, it is still found in many buildings.
For this reason, UK law states that if you’re likely to come into contact with asbestos you need specific asbestos awareness training. More information on training available can be found on the UKATA website.
What diseases can asbestos exposure cause?
Asbestos related diseases are extremely slow to develop, which means by the time symptoms start showing, it is often too late to cure them. There are four asbestos related diseases and all of them cause restriction in the lungs in some way, meaning that the key symptoms are difficulty breathing and chest tightness.
- Asbestosis – scarring of the lungs
- Non-cancerous thickening of the pleural cavity of the lungs
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
- Mesothelioma – cancer of the cells of the membrane which covers the lungs
It’s important to remember that even though an asbestos related illness can take decades to develop, people can still make a claim against the company that exposed them to the substance.
How exposure happens
Asbestos is a fibrous material which, when disturbed, releases fibres into the environment. When these are inhaled, they can become embedded in the lungs. Depending on the level of exposure, fibres can cause scarring or inflammation which can lead to one of the above diseases developing. This is why plumbers, electricians, property developers, builders and people working in similar professions are at a higher risk of asbestos exposure as they are more likely to disrupt existing asbestos.
What the symptoms are and how long they take to develop
If you or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos and have developed any of the following conditions, it is vital that you seek medical attention as soon as possible:
– Tightness in the chest
– Chest pain
– Trouble breathing/shortness of breath
– Persistent cough
These symptoms can take between 10 and 40 or more years to develop after the initial exposure to asbestos, depending on the level of exposure.
Who can make an asbestos claim?
To make a claim, an individual first needs to be diagnosed as suffering from an asbestos related illness such as mesothelioma or asbestosis. As illnesses like these can take decades to develop, it is not as easy to determine a responsible party as it would be say, for a recent road accident or an accident at work. Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos can potentially make a claim, so if you have been diagnosed as suffering from an asbestos related illness, speak to a Solicitor as soon as possible.
As making a claim for asbestos related diseases is one of the more complicated claims processes, it’s always best to speak to an experienced Solicitor who has dealt with asbestos related claims before.
How the claim process works
Since symptoms of asbestos related diseases can take decades to develop, in some cases the company responsible for asbestos exposure will have stopped trading. This can make it hard to locate the company’s insurers to make a claim against them, which makes these kinds of claims particularly difficult, but by no means impossible. Writing in the British Asbestos Newsletter, Tony Whitson, Chair of the Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK, commented on this common situation:
“For decades, insurers wantonly destroyed or simply lost records of employers’ liability insurance which victims of very long latent asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma, would later come to rely on long after the companies who exposed them to asbestos had ceased trading. Unmoved by the suffering and incalculable loss of life caused by asbestos, insurers persistently refused to accept responsibility for their failure to retain records and turned their backs on dying asbestos victims.”
Whilst this can be an issue, it is still possible to make a claim. Once you’ve spoken to a Solicitor about your situation, they will firstly look for details of the offending company and then the relevant insurance company. Whether your Solicitor can trace details of the company and insurers or not, they will still seek to find evidence from your family, previous colleagues, contractors and clients from when you worked at the company, along with medical evidence of your diagnosis. Although every case is different, once the evidence has been gathered, how the claimant was exposed to asbestos can be defined and a case can be put forward.
If a person has been exposed to asbestos whilst working at a number of companies, a Solicitor will only need evidence of one liable company, or their insurers, in order to make a claim.
Likelihood of a claim being a success
Every asbestos claim case is, of course, different, so whether a claim will be successful or not is dependent upon very specific circumstances. However, there are a number of elements which will help ensure your claim is a success:
- Your asbestos related illness has been diagnosed by a medical professional.
- There’s a high chance your illness is the result of being exposed to asbestos in a job where you worked OR you experienced secondary exposure from someone who worked with asbestos, for example, by handling their clothing.
- The exposure to asbestos occurred as a result of your employer’s negligence as they didn’t take the necessary precautions at the time to protect their employees.
- In many cases, a claim will be successful if it can be proven ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that the illness was caused by exposure to asbestos. Therefore, even though it can’t be proven that asbestos exposure was caused by an employer, it’s ‘more likely than not’ that it was.
Claiming on behalf of a person who has died
Diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis can take a long time to develop, but once they have got to the stage where symptoms are present, the diseases can’t be cured and life expectancy can be a few months to a couple of years. For example, by this stage, most people diagnosed with mesothelioma would not expect to live longer than two years after their diagnosis.
Even though treatment has meant that life expectancy of all the asbestos related diseases has improved, as the diseases are incurable and progressive, it’s often family members who take over the responsibility of making a claim. Unfortunately in some cases, the person suffering from the illness actually passes away during the claim process. In situations like this, the claim can still be perused and the case can be resubmitted as a claim against the person’s employer for wrongful death.
Claiming compensation on behalf of a person who has passed away can make the process more complicated which is why it’s vital to speak to a Solicitor with experience of dealing with asbestos related illness claims.
Justice for Mrs. W
In 2013, specialist Solicitors ASD helped Sheffield woman Mrs. W claim a six figure sum of compensation for an asbestos related illness.
Mrs. W knew that she had been exposed to asbestos during the 1960s and 1970s as she remembered her family members coming home from work as local thermal insulation engineers and shaking out their asbestos covered clothing before washing it. Although ASD searched extensively for the relevant insurance company who represented that company responsible for the asbestos, they couldn’t be traced and the company itself had stopped trading many years before.
Mrs. W and ASD didn’t give up and instead focused on possible asbestos exposure that Mrs. W could have experienced as an employee at Callard and Bowser Nuttalls Ltd, where the pipe work used during making the sweets was lagged with asbestos. ASD was able to negotiate a six figure sum from the company’s insurers which would help Mrs W with medical expenses and improve her way of life dramatically.
More information from ASD
Useful links for more information on asbestos
Tradespeople are at particular risk of asbestos as they are more likely to be exposed to the substance. The campaign Take 5 and Stay Alive, is a website from the British Lung Foundation which is specifically for tradespeople who are looking to find out more about asbestos and the risks they face from asbestos in their work.
The website for the UK Asbestos Training Association features information for tradespeople on training for spotting and correctly disposing of asbestos.
Government health and safety advice
The Government website has an entire section dedicated to information on asbestos including what asbestos is, where it’s found and how it should be handled.
Associated charities and organisations