Hearing the shock news that a growing difficulty to catch your breath is confirmed as mesothelioma cancer can often be more than a bolt out of the blue, as it is often described by victims. Increasingly, a victim is at a complete loss to know when and where exposure to asbestos occurred in their working life. It’s often the case that a claimant or their dependants puts a desperate call out to former work colleagues to help with recalling where asbestos may have been present in one or more workplaces.

Preparing a mesothelioma claim involves an asbestosis lawyer carrying out meticulous research into a claimant’s employment history. Pinpointing how the exposures occurred must be shown, and the employer’s failure in their duty of care to protect employees from the future harm caused.

Ever widening number of occupations and circumstances

Up until recently, 85 per cent of all mesothelioma deaths were amongst generations of men who, between the 1950s and the late 1970s, worked with asbestos in traditional heavy industries, such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, building construction, railway and vehicle assembly. Since the first UK asbestos ban in the mid 1980s, there has been a growing asbestos awareness to the ever widening number of occupations and other circumstances where exposures were likely to have occurred, most notably in schools.

It can be absolutely devastating for victims to receive a confirmed diagnosis of mesothelioma, which is often followed by the sudden realisation that for years they were innocently working with or near asbestos without wearing any form of adequate personal protection or being told of the potential long term health risks.

Now more distressing still, men and women are increasingly being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and they simply do not know exactly how they were exposed and the likely source of asbestos containing materials.

Unexplained exposure involve two females, a rising trend

The latest reported cases of asbestosis caused by an unexplained exposure involves two females, a rising trend, which may be due to a decline in male occupational exposure as the use of asbestos fibres as an insulating material began to slowly decline from the mid 80s onwards. Both are trying to discover how they came into contact with the fibre materials by carefully working through their entire employment history with their solicitors.

In the first case, the victim actually began looking at whether she was exposed as a child at infant and junior school in the late 1950s and then at secondary school in the early 1960s. It should not be forgotten that between the late 1940s and early 1970s – the peak period of asbestos use in the UK – around 6,000 (just over 45 per cent) of the 13,000 schools built in England and Wales were built using building materials made from asbestos fibres. Today , it is estimated that 80 per cent of school buildings around the country still contain asbestos.

In 2013, a Government advisory Committee on Carcinogenicity (COC) study found “children are more vulnerable than adults” from exposure to asbestos. Their 2 year study concluded that “the lifetime risk … is around 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age 5 compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about 5 times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30.”

Exposed at her workplace or a victim of “secondary exposure?”

After leaving school, the 16 year old was employed at two different company locations before marrying in the mid 1970s to an electrical technician based at the same trading estate for just over ten years. Could she have been exposed at her workplace or was she a victim of “secondary exposure” by her husband who may have come into contact with asbestos at his workplace? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) repeatedly warn that no public, private or commercial building constructed before 2000 may be considered entirely free of asbestos insulation. This is because white asbestos was not banned from use until the end of 1999.

In the second case, the focus is entirely on the one workplace where the women – diagnosed with asbestosis and pleural plaques in her late 70s – was continuously employed for five years from 1987, the year before the first asbestos ban. She recalls coming across a safety data product sheet, which she is sure stated that liquids she used in a spraying process may have contained asbestos or was harmful.

Work carried out without any respiratory equipment or protection

Despite of this warning, the work was carried out without any respiratory equipment or protection. Another possible source of exposure was on the occasions when she cleaned extractor fans situated in the eaves of the building, next to her spray booth. A scraper had to be used to forcibly remove the hardened dust that had collected on the blades. Once again, the victim needs to urgently hear from former work colleagues to confirm her recollections so that she can show evidence of exposure to asbestos at her workplace.

Women now account for 1 in 6 mesothelioma deaths, according to latest available figures from The Health and Safety Executive (HSE Annual Report, Great Britain, 2014). Of 2,515 mesothelioma deaths, 414 were female fatalities. Since 2008 alone, around 1,200 women in the UK have died from mesothelioma, a third of whom were exposed to asbestos either at work or in their immediate environment. Many of the women will have worked in buildings where asbestos had been previously installed as insulation and fireproofing material, such as schools, nurseries, hospitals, government and council buildings, offices, factories and department stores.