Trades that worked with asbestos materials – carpenters and joiners

Posted on 19th January 2021

Our asbestos team specialists have been dealing with asbestos disease claims for many decades and have a wealth of knowledge about how different workers were exposed to asbestos. We thought it would be useful and interesting to consider some particular trades that our asbestos team come across in their daily work. The first trade in this series is carpenters and joiners.

The asbestos disease cases we are dealing with today relate to exposure to asbestos many years ago, typically sometime between the 1950s and 1980s. This is because there is a long period between exposure to asbestos and someone going on to develop an asbestos related condition. However, please remember that not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos disease.

Many carpenters/joiners, particularly during the 1960s, had a formal Deed of Apprenticeship. Such an Apprenticeship was an honour to have and would typically last anywhere between three and five years. The carpenter/joiner would be taught all aspects of the trade whilst shadowing a qualified colleague. Quite often the apprentices would be sent to help other tradesmen for a few weeks, typically plumbers or electricians, so they had an overall picture of how the various building trades worked together.

Use of Asbestolux and Turnabestos sheeting

Of the numerous carpenters/joiners we have acted for over the years, many of them used Asbestolux sheeting. Asbestolux was the trade name of a smooth asbestos insulation board which was manufactured by Cape Asbestos. Asbestolux sheeting was extensively used by carpenters/joiners and other tradesmen in their daily work and was available in builders’ merchants until the early 1980s. Other asbestos containing sheeting was also used including Turnabestos which was manufactured by Turner & Newall.

Smooth sheets such as Asbestolux typically look like plaster board but these sheets contain hazardous asbestos fibres. When asbestos sheeting was cut by our clients, extensive amounts of asbestos dust were released into the immediate breathing zone of the carpenter/joiner. When the sheeting was drilled so that it could be screwed into place, again further asbestos fibres were released into the atmosphere. Our clients have told us how they often used a mix of hand and electric saws and drills to do their work. The electric tools generated more intensive clouds of asbestos dust than the hand tools did, although the use of hand tools took longer and so the exposure to asbestos lasted longer.

Sheeting containing asbestos fibres was typically used as a fireproofing material and carpenters/joiners would cut and fit the sheeting to size to create, amongst other things, partitioning and ceiling tiles. Carpenters/joiners could often spend all day, and even days and weeks, continuously cutting and fixing asbestos containing sheeting. The amount of asbestos dust they would have inhaled is terrifying to think about.

As well as the smooth asbestos sheets, carpenters/joiners also regularly used corrugated asbestos sheeting. Even today, many garages, outbuilding roofs and shed roofs remain constructed of corrugated asbestos sheeting.

The corrugated asbestos sheets would need to again be cut to size, drilled and fitted. Every asbestos corrugated sheet that a carpenter/joiner cut or drilled into would have exposed that worker to asbestos dust.

It was often the case that before the new asbestos roof on a garage could be fitted, the old asbestos roof had to be taken down first. The carpenter/joiner would typically use a crow bar or similar tool to pull up each asbestos sheet and it would be dropped down from garage roof height to the ground below. The old corrugated sheeting would already be damaged and in a deteriorated condition and as it was dropped to the ground below, it would break and crumble and cause asbestos fibres to fly about. Someone, often the apprentice, would have to clear up that mess at the end of the job and he would have been exposed to asbestos fibres as he did so.

In addition to the carpenters/joiners doing the actual work with asbestos sheeting, others working close-by to them or even just walking through a working area whilst cutting of asbestos sheeting was taking place, would also have been exposed to asbestos dust.

Being a carpenter was (and still is today) considered to be a highly regarded and skilled job. It took years to get through the apprenticeship and often would require also attending night classes, as well as the daily hands-on practical work. It is shocking to think that so many highly skilled men are now developing asbestos related diseases simply from doing their work. The HSE estimates that “1 one 17 British carpenters born in the 1940s will die of mesothelioma”. This is a very sad but all too real statistic.

Wifes exposed to asbestos dust

Carpenters/joiners who had been working with asbestos containing sheeting or other asbestos materials would often end their shift with asbestos dust in their hair and all over their work clothes. If they had overalls on, the overalls would often be taken home meaning that family members were also being exposed to asbestos fibres. We have dealt with many mesothelioma cases where a tradesman’s wife has developed mesothelioma as a result of washing her husband’s work clothes. Many women who are diagnosed with an asbestos related condition may not think back to when they washed their husband’s work clothes as a source of asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. There is no cure for this condition but there are treatments available that can provide a better quality of life and/or prolong life. However, some of these treatments are not available on the NHS for mesothelioma sufferers and can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for privately. Within a compensation claim for mesothelioma, we can include the cost of such treatment for our clients.

As well as the risk of developing mesothelioma, carpenters/joiners and others who have been exposed to asbestos are also at risk of developing asbestos related lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening and pleural plaques. If you are given a diagnosis of any of these conditions, it is very important that you seek legal advice without delay.

How we can help

Compensation claims for asbestos related diseases is a very specialised and complex area of law and it is therefore essential that you instruct lawyers who deal with these cases every day and know what they are doing. Our dedicated asbestos team only deal with asbestos cases, all day every day, and have many decades of experience within the team.

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos related condition, whatever your trade was or whatever your source of exposure to asbestos was, please contact our asbestos team for advice. It may even be that you do not know how or where you were exposed to asbestos but it is still important to speak to our specialist team, as they will be able to explore all possible avenues with you and assist with DWP benefits claims that you may be entitled to. Please call 0808 231 6369 or request a call back online.

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