Asbestos was extensively used in the UK for many decades but it is only now we are seeing the devastating effects of that asbestos use from so long ago. Our specialist asbestos team at Hodge Jones & Allen pursue asbestos related claims every day and we have noticed that a growing number of our clients with mesothelioma are female.
Historical asbestos use
Blue, brown and white asbestos materials were used for many years, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. During that period, huge numbers of new buildings were constructed and tradesmen such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and laggers were being exposed to asbestos. Many of our clients who have asbestos diseases clients were among those tradesmen but we are seeing more and more female clients who have developed mesothelioma. We explore below how women may have been exposed to asbestos.
Women and their employment
Between the 1950s and 1980s, many women stayed at home to raise their families. Some had part-time jobs which were often administrative in nature or based in schools or hospitals. They may well have been exposed to asbestos in their own employment, particularly when working in schools and hospitals which today still contain significant amounts of asbestos materials.
Women and environmental exposure
Some women have developed mesothelioma as a result of living near to an asbestos factory. When taking their children to school or visiting the local shops, they may typically have been walking past a factory producing asbestos goods leading to contamination of the surrounding area with asbestos dust. We have had clients tell us how their garden or windows would always be covered in white dust that came from the asbestos factory down the road.
Women and talcum powder
An area of law that is being explored by our specialist asbestos team is the link between mesothelioma and the historical use of talcum powder contaminated with asbestos. Women tend to use talcum powder as part of their daily beauty routine and this may explain why some women develop mesothelioma with no other known exposure to asbestos.
Women washing work clothing
We are finding that more and more women are developing mesothelioma as a result of washing their husband’s contaminated work clothing.
Many employers did not offer washing facilities to their employees and so tradesmen and other asbestos workers would take their work clothes home to be washed. Unfortunately, it also meant the asbestos dust picked up at work was coming into the home on those contaminated overalls, on the clothing worn underneath, on their bodies and in their hair. Of course, the workers had no idea this was a concern as their employers never warned them about the dangers of asbestos.
Automatic washing machines were not generally available to women at home between the 1960s and 1980s and laundry washing was done by hand. We have heard many times how women would, when sorting out the dirty laundry, routinely shake their husband’s work clothes in the home and see visible clouds of asbestos dust fall away. One lady explained that because her husband’s overalls were always full of asbestos dust from his work as a lagger, she would bang the work clothes up against the outside garden wall to try and get the asbestos fibres off, leaving a visible white asbestos stain on the wall and she herself covered in dust.
Women and the Law
Not only did employers allow their employees to be exposed to asbestos at work but they also exposed family members to asbestos dust by allowing workers to go home with asbestos fibres on them. This is unforgivable but the law is, in our view, far too forgiving.
For these “secondary exposure” claims, the law requires the woman to have been exposed to asbestos from the end of 1965 onwards. In our view, this is unfair bearing in mind asbestos was widely used in many industries prior to 1965.
We have had female clients whose only source of exposure to asbestos is very clearly from washing their husband’s work clothes but, as that washing only took place prior to 1965, they are unable to pursue a compensation claim. How is it morally right that one wife who washed her husband’s contaminated work clothing prior to 1965 cannot bring a compensation claim but another wife who washed similar clothing after 1965 can bring a claim? The woman is the innocent victim and yet the law fails her if her husband worked with asbestos at the wrong time.
There are further onerous requirements to be met in law for a secondary exposure claim to be successful. Relevant public insurance has to be identified, which often just doesn’t exist. So even a woman who washed asbestos contaminated clothing after 1965 may not have anyone to pursue for compensation.
To add insult to injury, there is no “Plan B” for a woman to recover compensation if her husband’s former employers cannot be pursued or the relevant insurers cannot be identified. The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme for mesothelioma victims requires exposure to asbestos during the victim’s own employment and does not cover women who have washed their husband’s asbestos contaminated work clothes.
As can be seen, women who develop mesothelioma as a result of washing contaminated work clothes have an uphill battle to recover compensation. However, our asbestos lawyers have been successful in many claims for women who have developed mesothelioma because we are experts in this area of the law.
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or an asbestos related disease, we urge you to seek legal advice from us. We will explore every single possible avenue with you and we act on a “no win, no fee” basis with no hidden charges and no deductions for legal fees.
For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our specialist solicitors on 0808 252 5231 to discuss your potential compensation for asbestos related disease. To request a call back please complete our contact form.