Exposure to asbestos during the course of a working life was a common risk across many industrial sectors until relatively recently. During the 1960s and 70s, at the height of asbestos use in the UK, an average of between 150,000 to 180,000 tons of asbestos was imported each year.
Today, it can often be forgotten just how widespread the presence of asbestos was in all types of workplaces. Not just insulation products, which are now well-known for being used in industries, such as ship-building, vehicle assembly and construction. Asbestos could also be typically found lining hot water boilers, pipework and air heating systems in factory units, commercial premises and public buildings.
Every time a victim statement is heard during a mesothelioma claim, we may be given a brief glimpse into the everyday working activities at different companies, which so often innocently involved direct contact with asbestos. A recent example was the case of a 69 year old electrician who was exposed to asbestos when he began his career as an apprentice at an electrical firm, aged 19 and was continually exposed at different workplaces right up until his early 30s.
Working close by to men replacing asbestos pipe lagging
More than three decades have passed since Britain first introduced a ban on the most toxic blue and brown fibre types of asbestos in 1985 followed by white asbestos, fifteen years later. Yet every year in the UK, more than 2,500 people continue to fall victim to mesothelioma or asbestosis disease.
At the completion of his apprenticeship – where he worked in areas alongside others who would regularly mix and apply asbestos lagging to pipework – the former electrician was employed at a heating company between 1969 and 1971. During this period, his job in maintenance once again involved working close by to men replacing pipe plaster lagging mixed with asbestos fibres.
Fatal consequences of fibre dust were still largely unknown
Doctors had begun to suspect a link between the fibre insulation and asbestosis diseases since at least the 1920s and legislation to limit exposure in factories began in the early 1930s. However, some 40 years later, asbestos awareness to the fatal consequences of breathing in the fibre dust were still largely unknown in many workplaces.
In a countless number of factories, employers simply failed in their duty to protect their workforce from the risk of exposure. As a result, hundreds of thousands of men who worked directly with asbestos materials were not issued with any form of appropriate breathing equipment or health information.
Almost every mesothelioma claimant’s statement will mention the “clouds of asbestos dust” that the victim found themselves working in as they cut or drilled asbestos materials on an almost daily basis. So it was for the former electrician during his next period of employment.
Airborne dust directly blew into his face and clothes
Between 1971 and 1978 he was hired as an oil fired service engineer at two different firms. One of his regular tasks was to regularly cut and replace the asbestos wicks used in boilers. The work inevitably produced amounts of airborne dust, which directly blew into his face and settled on his clothes.
However, the potential for inhaled asbestos dust particles to eventually turn the cells of the lung linings cancerous can take between 15 and 50 years before the first asbestosis symptoms appear. The former electrician/service engineer was only prompted to visit his GP when recently experiencing persistent pain from an injury to his ribs. Then when he began to suffer breathing difficulties, an X-ray discovered fluid on his lung, which led to a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Exposure rate was high right up until 1999
Today, research shows that construction trade workers, such as plumbers, electricians and heating engineers risked a one in 50 chance of developing mesothelioma, according to Cancer Research UK. Those who were aged under 30 years old when they worked with asbestos for 10 years or more are estimated to have a one in 17 chance of contracting the fatal cancer.
The Health And Safety Executive (HSE) have also stated that, “most mesothelioma deaths occurring now are a legacy of past occupational exposures to asbestos…” and the exposure rate was likely to still be high right up until white asbestos was finally banned in 1999.