The passing away of a 60 year old male from mesothelioma is not just the latest case of men who are increasingly below the average age of 75 when diagnosed with the fatal cancer of the lung linings. The victim was exposed to asbestos while in his late teens/early twenties while working at a brickmaking factory from 1972 to 1980.
It is well documented that between the 1950s and the late 1970s, asbestos fibres were widely used in making construction industry materials, such as AIB (asbestos insulating board), soffits, roofing tiles and shingles. At the same time, the universal construction material – bricks – were baked in kilns and stored in ‘setting’ sheds where asbestos was used because of its highly effective heat resistant and insulating properties.
Kilns could use mortar mixes of up to 80 per cent asbestos
The victim, who began working at the brickworks aged just 17, was employed as a labourer and worked in and around the factory’s many brickyard kilns and setting sheds. The former brick worker recalled that the asbestos boards, which lined the setting shed walls and the corrugated asbestos roof sheets, were “old and in very poor condition”, as a result of many years of impact damage from forklifts and dumper trucks.
Asbestos was also used as ‘in-fill’ to pack out cavities above the brick arched entrances to the kilns. In processes involving high temperatures, it was also a common practice to apply an asbestos mortar mix as an air-sealant. Kilns could use mortar mixes applied between the bricks of up to 80 per cent asbestos and around 10 per cent of white lime.
However, the use of high temperatures to bake the bricks would cause kilns to regularly collapse, which would take a week to clear and then rebuild. In his statement, the former labourer at the brick manufacturer, which still operates today, recounts the all-too familiar scenario of the “clouds of dust” created while they shovelled away the rubble, and “inhaling all that dust, which must have contained asbestos”.
Not provided with a mask or personal protective equipment
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, which continues to regularly bring prosecutions today, employers are 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 about their workplace, which might affect their health and safety.”
The brick workers concludes with the frequently heard statement in mesothelioma claim cases that he was not provided with a mask or personal protective equipment, and was not told about asbestos or warned of the dangers.
As is common in these types of cases, it can be difficult to obtain the evidence needed to prove where and when exposure to asbestos dust occurred. The family and dependants are urgently calling upon anyone who worked at the brick company during the 1970s to help with recalling work conditions at the time, especially involving the collapse and rebuild of the kilns.
Since the first mid 1980s ban, asbestos use declined in industries, such as shipbuilding, engineering and manufacturing. However, male victims aged 75 plus have been increasingly replaced by male mortality caused by more recent ‘historical’ exposures to men (and women) just into their early 60s.
Gradual shift in the age group of victims
Previously, 85 per cent of all mesothelioma deaths occurred amongst previous generations of men who worked with asbestos during Britain’s peak period of use in the workplace from the 1940s through to the late 1970s. Recent research shows a gradual shift in the age group of those victims who lose their life to mesothelioma. Figures released by the Office of National Statistic (ONS, 2015) indicate that between 1968 and 2013, the number of male mesothelioma deaths aged between 50 and 70 rose by about 25 per cent and will increase by about a further 20-35 per cent by 2050.
Men who began work in asbestos-using occupations in their teens or early twenties during the 1970s and 1980s, and are only now approaching retirement aged in their late fifties or early sixties, are increasingly being diagnosed for mesothelioma or asbestosis disease.
The number of men falling victim to mesothelioma cancer has been revised up from an annual peak of 2,038 to between 49,000 and 58,000 deaths over the next twenty five years, based on latest figures from the Health & Safety Executive.