A former Vauxhall factory worker who says he gave his wife asbestos-related cancer by being close to her after work is suing his former employer for £1m following her death.
John Carey worked at Vauxhall Motor’s Luton and Dunstable sites between 1973 and 1979.He says that his wife Lydia Carey breathed in asbestos fibres which contaminated his work overall, hair, moustache and sideburns.
Mrs Carey was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of asbestos-linked lung cancer, in October 2017 and died from her illness in November 2018, aged 60. Her widower is suing his former employee for damages, arguing that his wife died as a result of his exposure to the toxic material at work.
Asbestos was used widely in certain industries between the 1940s and the 1970s. Exposure to the substance has been scientifically proven to carry significant health risks. Its fibres can remain dormant inside a person’s lungs for decades before causing an incurable and painful form of lung cancer.
In some cases it can take as much as half a century for active health problems caused by contact with the material to emerge. As a result, claims against companies in the UK arising from employee exposure to asbestos are expected to keep increasing until around 2020.
Vauxhall says it took adequate safety measures
Vauxhall has contested Mr Carey’s claims, denying that their former employee was exposed to hazardous amounts of asbestos or that his work would have “disturbed asbestos in the fabric of the building” so as to present a health risk.
The car manufacturer has pointed to the measures it took to protect workers’ safety. Lawyers for Vauxhall note that the company hired specialist, licensed contractors to carry out all asbestos-related work at the plants and also operated an overalls washing scheme for its employees.
The car manufacturer has stated that their former employee’s exposure - if any - to asbestos between 1973 and 1979 would have been “very occasional if not minimal”.
The claimant says that the company charged workers for the laundry service, and as a result Mrs Carey regularly washed her husband’s work overalls, which it is said were at times “black with dust”. Mr. Carey also maintains that he worked in close proximity to asbestos dust and on several occasions “swept asbestos dust and debris from the floor using a dustpan and brush.”
He claims Vauxhall neglected to warn him of the dangers linked to asbestos and should have provided him with protective equipment.
Employers have ‘duty to manage’ asbestos risks
To limit liability for the health risks posed to employees by asbestos at work, employers must ensure that adequate safety measures are in place.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, owners and occupiers of commercial premises have a ‘duty to manage’ asbestos, provided they have a clear responsibility to maintain and repair the building.
This involves taking reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in the building - with a duty to presume that materials do contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not.
If asbestos is present, the risks of exposure must be assessed and a detailed plan for managing the risks must be decided, implemented and continually reviewed. Since asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed, in many cases it is safer for employers not to remove all asbestos, but instead to manage it in accordance with the dangerousness of the material in question.
In situations where an employee is liable to be exposed to asbestos, employers should provide workers with adequate personal protective clothing.
Where materials are removed, a licensed contractor must be hired to remove high-risk materials (e.g. pipe insulation), whereas an unlicensed contractor may be permissible to deal with lower risk materials such as asbestos cement sheets and roofing.
Compensation for exposure to asbestos
At IBB, our industrial diseases team, led by compensation expert,Malcom Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for an asbestos-related disease. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.