Asbestos-related diseases, notably the incurable mesothelioma cancer of the lung linings, have long been associated with twentieth century traditional heavy industries, such as shipbuilding, textile manufacturing, building construction, railway and vehicle assembly.
But in the last 30 years, asbestos awareness has significantly increased to include a wide ranging number of occupations and circumstances that also give rise to asbestos-related cancer and asbestosis diseases. It would not be unreasonable to assume that there was not a single workplace of any description that did not contain asbestos materials and which did not pose a potential risk of exposure to the workforce. Among the tragic roll call of exposure victims were those employed in places, such as power stations, paper mills, chemical plants, oil refineries, steel mills, the electrical and telephone industry, and cable and wireless.
Does not know exactly how they were exposed
The dangers of exposure today tend to be primarily focused on neglectful work practices on building / demolition sites or failure to manage asbestos in local authority properties, such as schools and council premises, where the discovery of asbestos dust potentially poses a threat to employees or the general public.
It can be absolutely devastating for a victim of exposure and their family to receive a confirmed diagnosis of mesothelioma and to be told there may be just six months left to live. But the profound helplessness and distress can be made even worse when the victim recalls years of innocently working with or near asbestos without wearing any form of adequate personal protection or being told of the potential long term health risks. Increasingly, mesothelioma claims are being made by former maintenance men or their spouses following decades spent replacing asbestos pipe insulation or asbestos insulating board at one or more different companies.
Maybe worst of all, is the victim who simply does not know exactly how they were exposed and the likely source of asbestos at their place of work.
Recently, it was reported that a technical engineer who worked at more than a dozen aerial transmission sites owned by the BBC quickly passed away after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. No one knows exactly where and when the fatal exposures occurred during his employment at all the various broadcast sites around Britain between 1977 and 2014.
Widely used in insulating electrical wiring
Asbestos was known to be widely used in insulating electrical wiring, cables, relays and connectors, whether in a large engineering or factory complex, in the engine room of a large sea-going vessel or lining the interior of a domestic fuse-box. Asbestos may also have been used to insulate the transmitting equipment and cabling at the transmission sites. Moulded asbestos insulation was also often use to protect electrical wiring and large-scale conduits. In particular, blue asbestos (crocidolite) – one of the most toxic and dangerous of asbestos minerals – was in widespread use because of its particularly ‘non-reactive’ properties and ‘high resistance’ to electrical current.
Asbestos was also used for insulation and fireproofing in the construction of all types of commercial, public and residential buildings around Britain, especially in the post WW2 years of rapid reconstruction using cheaply sourced material, including asbestos. It is very possible that the asbestos formed part of the fabric of the buildings where the technician worked.
Following the first personal injury claim for mesothelioma compensation, which was successfully awarded in 1972, and asbestos licensing regulations just over ten years later, the peak years of asbestos imports and use declined just prior to the introduction of the first asbestos ban in 1985.
No obvious source of contact with asbestos
Up until recently, 85 per cent of all mesothelioma deaths was seen to have occurred amongst previous generations of men who worked with asbestos in traditional heavy industries. The trend has slowly given way to men and women who have only recently reached retirement age and who are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases with no obvious source of contact with asbestos.
The number of men falling victim to mesothelioma has been revised up from a peak of 2,038 each year to between 49,000 and 58,000 deaths over the next twenty five years, based on latest figures from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
As a result, the number of mesothelioma cases has actually increased almost four-fold in the last thirty years as male mortality caused by more recent exposure to asbestos in non-traditional workplaces is continuing to claim the lives of men (and women) just into their early 60s.