Workers exposed to asbestos – a shameful history
Posted on 27th November 2020
Asbestos is a killer; a stark statement perhaps, but one we can confidently make because our specialist lawyers witness every day the devastating effects of historic asbestos exposure on individuals and their families. Our asbestos disease team deal exclusively with asbestos related claims, securing financial settlements and treatment for our clients who have been injured due to the negligence of former employers.
Asbestos exposure is responsible for approximately 2,500 deaths every year in the UK from mesothelioma. The figure is further increased when other asbestos disease deaths, such as those from asbestos related lung cancer and asbestosis, are taken into account. However, if we use the lower figure of 2,500 deaths per year during the last ten years alone, that means asbestos exposure is responsible for at least 25,000 deaths. The majority of those deaths will be due to exposure to asbestos at work. At least 25,000 families have been left shattered and broken because of exposure to asbestos. That is wrong on every level.
Asbestos exposure at work is often considered as only affecting workers such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other “traditional tradesmen”. Some people link asbestos exposure to particular types of work such as shipbuilding or the building industry. However, the stark reality of the situation is that every type of worker could potentially be affected by asbestos diseases.
The lawyers who deal with asbestos cases at Hodge Jones & Allen are never surprised by the type of work or industry within which their clients were exposed to asbestos, as our clients who are now suffering from asbestos related conditions worked in many different environments and occupations. We are regularly assisting office workers, shop workers, nurses, doctors and teachers, to name but a few. In fact we are seeing fewer workers traditionally linked to asbestos exposure and more clients who did other types of work.
How employers lied about asbestos
Our asbestos disease team lawyers have between them decades of experience in dealing with asbestos claims. Over the years clients have told them some of the things employers said to them about asbestos, including:
- “Asbestos is safe” – the dangers to health of being exposed to asbestos fibres have been known for well over 100 years in UK industry and yet employers freely allowed their workers to use this dangerous material in their everyday work, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. Workers were made to feel like they were making a fuss and even received suggestions they could be easily replaced if they persisted with their questions about asbestos;
- “It’s only blue asbestos that you need to worry about” – asbestos comes in white, brown and blue forms. Blue asbestos is regarded the most toxic of the three but all asbestos is potentially dangerous to health when the fibres are breathed in. White asbestos was the most widely used of the three – it was cheap to buy and could be created into many different uses. Yes, blue asbestos is more toxic than white asbestos but the fact remains that white asbestos is dangerous to health and employers knew this and yet chose to allow the exposure to their workers to continue.
- “If you only work with asbestos for a few hours a day, you need not worry” – employers tried to convince their employees that it was safe to work with asbestos materials as long as they didn’t go over a particular limit of so many hours each day (and that limit varied from employer to employer). What employers failed to disclose to their workers is that a condition such as mesothelioma only requires minimal exposure to asbestos.
- “Drink a pint of milk after you have worked with asbestos and you will be fine” – Employees were told that if they drunk a pint of milk after working with asbestos materials, any ill effects that may occur would be washed away. Some employers even went so far as to provide their employees with the pint of milk before they left work for the day. We are not aware of any medical basis upon which this suggestion was made to workers. However, many of our clients drunk the milk believing it would stop asbestos related health problems – they believed what they were being told by the employers they trusted.
- “We will send you for a chest x-ray to prove you are okay” – if an employee expressed concern about being exposed to asbestos at work, they were sometimes told they would be sent for a chest x-ray to prove all was clear. Inevitably the x-ray would come back clear but this is because it takes many years, often 10-60 years, from being exposed to asbestos to first symptoms of an asbestos related condition showing. Being sent for an x-ray a few weeks after the asbestos exposure took place is not going to show anything at all.
There are five recognised asbestos related conditions:
- Pleural plaques;
- Pleural thickening;
- Asbestos related lung cancer;
Many people who are diagnosed with these conditions simply went to work and their employees had no regard for their safety when they should have done so. It is shameful that so many people are being diagnosed with asbestos related diseases in the UK because of our historical use of asbestos. Employers knew asbestos was dangerous to health, and yet they willingly allowed their workers to use it so that profits could remain as high as possible. Money was put before workers’ health.
Due to the long period from being exposed to asbestos to developing an asbestos related condition (but remember not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos related disease) it is now, in the present, that we are seeing the devastating effects of the wrong-doing of employers so many years ago.
It is also now that employers and their insurers are being brought to account for their actions by having to pay compensation to victims of asbestos related diseases. Shockingly, insurers will still argue and deny that the companies they insured did anything wrong and it is therefore essential that an asbestos disease victim has a legal professional on their side to fight for them. Our asbestos disease experts understand that a legal fight is the last thing someone newly diagnosed with an asbestos related condition wants to deal with and so our team will do all they possibly claim to make the legal side of things as easy as possible for you. We know what we are doing, we are experts in our field and our lawyers have been fighting for asbestos disease victims for many years – we will do what we do best and take the strain of the legal fight away from you.
Profits were made for the employers through the hard work of their workers but it is those same workers who are now paying the ultimate price with their health. Retirement years and creating family memories are being stolen away from far too many people, simply because they went to work.