A recent mesothelioma compensation case highlights a long history of a lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks, which persist to this day.

A 63 year old Liverpool man who was exposed to asbestos while working at three different companies spanning over three decades from the 1960s to the 1990s was diagnosed with the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer in 2011. According to the victim’s statements, no warnings, information or protective equipment (such as a mask) or clothing were made available by any of the different employers when working around asbestos dust, throughout the entire period.

As medical research has long known, once the asbestos fibres are inhaled, they tend to permanently embed within the lung linings (or stomach linings) eventually causing asbestosis disease or forming the deadly malignant mesothelioma cancer tumours. An unusually lengthy gestation period of between 15 to 50 years can elapse before the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms appear.

When a confirmed diagnosis is made, the disease has normally spread to an advanced stage and life expectancy may be no more than 4 to 18 months. As with the present case, the concern is always to ensure that a mesothelioma claim is quickly and fully resolved to ensure the best quality of life remaining for the victim and the future financial security of the spouse and family members.

As far back as around 1917-18, it was observed that asbestos workers were dying at an early age and the first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in 1924 when a doctor first named ‘asbestosis’ as the cause of the death of a 33 year old woman who had worked with asbestos since the age of thirteen. Subsequently, research revealed that a quarter of UK workers exposed to asbestos in their occupation showed evidence of asbestos-related lung disease.

The first Asbestos Industry Regulations were passed in 1931 as medical research began publishing increasing evidence of the link between asbestos exposure and disease of the lung linings. The peak years of UK industry use of asbestos fibres as a low-cost source of insulation was between the 1940s and mid 1980s when Asbestos Regulations first banned the most toxic types of asbestos fibres. However, white asbestos continued to be used, especially in the building industry, until importation was stopped in 1999, and a full ban enforced by EU directive in 2005.

For most of this period, many company employers failed in their duty to ensure their workforce was adequately protected and informed of the health risk attached to working with asbestos. Even in 2012, rarely a week passes without a case being reported of negligent behaviour or a lack of proper procedure when companies and building contractors are likely to be faced with the presence of asbestos.

The HSE say they still record over 2,000 cases of mesothelioma every year in the UK, which is expected to rise to around 45,000 fatalities caused by the deadly disease by 2050.