The latest tragic case of a former carpenter and shopfitter, aged 82, who lost his life to mesothelioma shortly after being diagnosed with the fatal cancer of the lung linings has left his widow appealing for help to find out how her late husband was exposed to the fatal asbestos fibres.

There are still many cases involving victims of asbestos exposure who began their working lives in their teens or early twenties as far back as the 1950s or 60s, at the height of Britain’s widespread industrial use of asbestos as an insulating material.

Living in the Bradford area from the 1950s, the unfortunate victim was employed in several firms over his working life spanning nearly fifty years where it’s most likely he would have been directly working with asbestos materials, such as insulation board. Ironically, fifty years is also the length of time, which can elapse from an initial period of exposure to the appearance of asbestosis symptoms.

Calling for former work colleagues

Frequently, a confirmed diagnosis is made at a late stage in the spread of the cancer, which means a victim may only have a life-expectancy of between 2 – 6 months. It will then be left to the spouse or a close family member to seek help with a mesothelioma claim. Increasingly, as in the present case, former work colleagues will be called upon to come forward with any knowledge about where exposure to asbestos might have taken place.

Up until the end of the 1970s and early 80s, employees often lacked any asbestos awareness to the long term health risks of directly working with asbestos materials and employers would simply ‘play down’ the dangers to avoid any interruption to production. Consequently, little or no safety information or suitable protection equipment would be available to safeguard the workforce from breathing in the fibre particle dust.

High exposure numbers before 1980

More than 1.3 million tonnes of asbestos were imported into the UK during the 1950s, which peaked at 1.6 million tonnes in the 1960s and continued around 1.5 million in the 1970s. Until the final import ban on white asbestos in 1999, more than five million tonnes had been used in British industry as a key insulation and fireproofing product.

A high number of all mesothelioma cases reported today are the result of exposures that occurred prior to 1980. Apart from insulation workers, shipbuilders and railway engineers, analyses of mesothelioma deaths in the UK based on last recorded occupation suggest that former construction workers, particularly plumbers, electricians and carpenters, represent the key high-risk group.

Risk of disease does not diminish in time

The passing of time does not diminish the potential for individuals to develop mesothelioma, according to new research. While it has always been known that the risk of mesothelioma increases as time continues since a first exposure, even after nearly half a century the risk of developing the disease is still at the same high level or even increases.

Incidence of mesothelioma as a cause of industrial disease has risen in the UK almost four-fold in the last thirty years. As recently as five years ago, research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that around 1 in 170 of all British men born in the 1940s will die of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma deaths increase

It has also been estimated by the HSE that an average of 20 tradesmen – mostly carpenters, electricians and plumbers – will continue to lose their lives every week to mesothelioma or suffer asbestosis diseases due to asbestos exposure.

In an update released in June 2014, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that the number of mesothelioma deaths increased by nearly 11 per cent from 2,291 in 2011 to 2,535 in 2012, largely due to an increase in male deaths aged 65 years or more (‘Mesothelioma Mortality In Great Britain 1968-2012’).