In the age of live music streaming and digital downloads, the record collector’s cherished format of analogue vinyl continues to survive and thrive in clubs, and at music festivals around the world. Sadly, another material from a bygone era not usually associated with the music industry, asbestos insulation, is also very much around and still taking away the lives of unfortunate victims.
Tragic cases of employees who once worked in record production premises, and who later developed mesothelioma or asbestos-related cancer as a result of exposure to the deadly dust fibres, have come to light in recent years. In the most recent example, a former research and development worker in record production during the early 1960s was diagnosed with the incurable mesothelioma cancer nearly 50 years later. Medical practitioners have long known that an exceptionally long period of between 10 to 60 years can pass before the first asbestosis symptoms of mesothelioma appear.
An all too familiar story
The family of the victim, who was in his early 80s when he died, and believe that he had at least four more years to live, recount an all too familiar story. Company employers who failed to warn of the potential health risks or provide any form of personal protection. Throughout much of the UK’s peak period of asbestos use during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the lack of asbestos awareness to the long term health dangers was typical in many industries. It would often seem that employers would turn a blind eye to the risks of asbestos exposure within their premises.
While Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 was aimed primarily at the main asbestos manufacturing industries, it wasn’t until the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 that employers were required to “conduct their work in such a way that their employees will not be exposed to health and safety risks” and to “provide information to other people about their workplace, which might affect their health and safety”. However, later mesothelioma claims have been successful where it can be shown that the potential future risk of health of an employee at the time of exposure was reasonably “foreseeable” by an employer.
Source of exposure was easily identified
A continuing issue is the presence of asbestos insulating materials, which can still be found in any type of dwelling or premises constructed up to 2000, just after white asbestos was banned in the UK. In some cases, there can be a challenge to identify the source of an “unexplained” exposure within a building, which may have caused an asbestos-related condition to develop up to several decades later.
In another case of asbestos exposure within a UK record production plant, the source of exposure was easily identified. Employed as an engineer at the factory, the 77 year old victim used to remove asbestos panels and coverings, which caused clouds of dust, and walk through areas filled with asbestos lagging, used for lining pipework. Before passing away in 2015, his statement says that he wore his own workclothes without any mask or protective equipment, and was not aware of any precautions he needed to take while removing the asbestos.
Work was stopped by a visiting union representative
Previously, in 2011, an 80 year old former record production employee who worked in the tool room at the plant, was another victim of asbestos-related cancer. Five years before the most toxic brown and blue asbestos types were first banned in 1985, the tool maker was asked to make a product from asbestos sheets and blocks. A drawing was produced, which specified a ‘hazard’ warning sign was to be stamped on the surface of the finished item.
The production involved drilling and shaping the sheets for around three months before the work was stopped by a visiting union representative. The employee was then asked to vacuum clean the asbestos dust, which covered the work benches and floor. Despite an increased awareness of the potential deadly dangers of asbestos exposure at this time in Britain, once again, the toolmaker had not been provided with any protective equipment and clothing.
Standard paper masks
Sadly, the lack of protection against breathing in the deadly dust fibre particles can still be found in certain industries, most notably, small construction firms. Regular cases heard in court often involve building renovations where contractors were not given regulation equipment or simply issued with standard paper masks to wear while removing asbestos-containing materials.
The Health And Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines state that working with asbestos must be below the airborne exposure or Control Limit, defined as a maximum concentration of 0.3 fibres per millilitre of air averaged over a continuous period of 4 hours.