The low cost manufacture of products made from the heat-resistant and fire-retardant properties of asbestos material throughout the twentieth century meant that exposure to asbestos fibre dust was a widespread health hazard across entire regions of heavy industry and engineering in the UK.
There was an ambivalent attitude by industry employers to the growing asbestos awareness of the fatal risk that exposure and breathing in of the fibres would have on the lives of their workforce. Legislation to completely ban its’ use only started to come into force as late as the 1970s and 80s.
One of the most common uses of asbestos as an effective insulation against high working temperatures for materials like hot glass, molten metals or dangerous chemicals and caustic acids, was in the production of industrial and laboratory gloves and mittens, often containing between 40 to 100 per cent white chrysotile asbestos.
Strong, flexible and resistant to abrasive agents, asbestos gloves were commonly used in all types of industries including, foundries, smelting works, refineries, power plants, steel mills, glass, ceramic and textile manufacturers, and the firefighting services.
Though white asbestos was considered the least toxic of asbestos material if left intact, and consequently, only finally banned in 1992, when asbestos gloves became frayed, ripped or torn, the deadly fibres would be released into the air in the form of fine dust to be breathed in by unsuspecting workers for hours or even days later.
However, from the original period of exposure to the first appearance of asbestosis symptoms can take up to 50 years, often when the disease is at an advanced stage and life expectancy is between 4 to 18 months.
Countless numbers of workers have lost their lives to mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease, especially in the industrial centres of England, such as South Tyneside, Sunderland, Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar and Cleveland. In addition, asbestos fibres released from gloves or mitts can attach themselves to work clothes, hair, skin and shoes, leading to ‘secondary exposure’ to family members at home.
Early symptoms of mesothelioma can often be confused with other types of respiratory illnesses leading to delayed diagnosis. The time limit for submitting a claim for mesothelioma compensation is three years.