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If You Think the Risk of Asbestos Has Diminished...Think Again

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In 2018, you would easily be forgiven for thinking that asbestos was a concern of bygone years.  In fact, not only is asbestos still prevalent in many buildings and structures across the UK, the number of cases of diagnosed asbestos-related disease is now at its peak in the late 2010s[1].

What is asbestos, and why is it so dangerous?

Asbestos is a white naturally occurring material which is made up of microscopic fibres.  For decades leading up to the 1990’s, it was used for the purposes of building insulation, and the construction of roofing, flooring, ceilings and walls[2].  While it provides a useful and effective building material, it is extremely hazardous to human health.  The tiny fibres, when inhaled can cause serious damage to the structure of the lungs, often many years after the exposure occurred. 

Not only is asbestos dangerous, any building built prior to the year 2000 may have asbestos – including hospitals, office buildings, houses, schools, libraries, and shops.

Those affected by asbestos may in later life be diagnosed with asbestosis; the term given to the scarring of the lungs, which in itself can cause significant health effects including shortness of breath, a persistent cough, wheezing, and pain.  Some patients later contract pleural disease (a thickening of the lining of the lungs), lung cancer, or mesothelioma (cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, tummy, heart or testicles)[3].  Asbestosis and mesothelioma can take decades to materialise, and when they do, the results can be truly life-limiting, and often fatal.

Lack of risk assessment led directly to asbestos fibre exposure

In January 2018, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported on a recent case in which SSE Hornsea Ltd were sentenced after exposing 13 workers to asbestos fibres[4].  The company operate a large gas storage facility on the East Yorkshire coast, and had given the task of removing a valve from a compressed air distribution system to a team of three maintenance personnel.  During the work, dust was created due to the removal of a gasket.  The dust, once airborne, was distributed throughout the maintenance workshop.  After initial suspicions led to analysis of the substance, it was found to contain dangerous chrysotile asbestos fibres.  As a result, the workshop was put out of operation due to the high risk of further exposure to asbestos.  On investigation, it was found that no risk assessment had been carried out prior to the job being started, the records held onsite were inadequate, and key personnel had not received any asbestos awareness training.  As a result of their negligence, SSE Hornsea were fined £300,000 for their breach of sections 2 (1) and 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc, Act 1974.

This case shows that asbestos can be anywhere, in this case in a small gasket, and lack of awareness of its existence can have serious consequences.

Asbestos still commonplace in British schools

Of all the places for asbestos to be prevalent, its widespread existence in our schools is arguably the most concerning.  The very idea that young children and teaching staff are, on a daily basis, placed in the immediate proximity of asbestos is deeply troubling, and yet it is thought that three-quarters of schools have the lethal substance in their buildings[5].  The problem is so overwhelming because about 14,000 school buildings that are still in use today were built between 1945 and 1975, when despite warnings of its dangers, asbestos was still in widespread use.

While the legacy of this substance exists within our school buildings, it is crucial that the risk to its exposure is well managed, for the safety of staff and children.  As such, ‘duty holders’, are required to know where asbestos is on their premises, the condition it is in, and must manage it fully[6].  In practice, this can require staff to be aware of key areas of concern, and they may be advised of the importance of avoiding contact so as not to cause the dispersal of dangerous fibres.

Even the Houses of Parliament are “riddled with asbestos”

There has been a great deal of media attention on the impending refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament.  In the past week, MP’s have voted to move ahead with a £3.5billion renovation project that will take several years to complete and will require MP’s to find a new place to debate.  Not only are the walls crumbling, pipes leaking, and the roof in danger of falling in, but the building is reportedly full of asbestos.  According to an article in the Times, which cites an official report on the state of the building, “the mother of parliaments is so “riddled with asbestos” that the dangerous building material can be found in almost every shaft holding the palace upright, the report says[7]”.

Successful claim for compensation due to Mesothelioma 30 years after exposure

According to a Cancer Research UK, Mesothelioma can develop anywhere between 15 and 60 years after the initial exposure to asbestos[8], which given that it was widely used in construction after the second world war, would explain why we are seeing a peak in cases now.  In October 2017, ‘J’, a female in her 70’s was awarded compensation after being diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2011.  The cause was exposure to asbestos between the ages of 30 and 40, while working for Jones v Robert McBride Homecare Ltd.  During this time, J was exposed to asbestos roofing and wall panels that were in need of repair and maintenance. 

Following many years of serious ill health, J became reliant on her husband for care, and in 2013 was advised that her life expectancy was likely to be shortened in the magnitude of 18 years.  She received compensation of £100,000 for her illness, in addition to other awards of approximately £210,000, to compensate for future and past travel, care, equipment, past loss of earnings, past care, medical, and other expenses.

Very helpful from start to finish. Kept me informed on all developments. Easy to contact if I had a query. [They] explained everything in easy to understand language, and worked to [their]  best ability to give me the best result.

-  Mrs S. Bryant, Reading, Mesothelioma client

Contact our asbestos compensation experts today

Asbestos may be a building material of the past, but its legacy is more haunting than ever.  It knows no boundaries, regardless of status, age, or occupation.   Asbestos is still a risk factor to the long-term health of a large proportion of the population.   And while asbestos and its insidious effects will one day be confined to the history books, we very much appear to be at the peak of asbestos-related diseases, and hence the number of claims for compensation may well rise.

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by asbestos claims expert and lawyer, Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for asbestos-related disease. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.



[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/asbestos.htm

[2] https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/asbestos-related-conditions/what-is-asbestos

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Asbestosis/

[4] http://press.hse.gov.uk/2018/company-fined-after-employees-exposed-to-asbestos-fibres/?utm_source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=digest-19-jan&utm_term=news&utm_content=asbestos

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/may/19/schools-asbestos-buildings-unable-get-rid

[6] http://www.hse.gov.uk/services/education/asbestos-faqs.htm

[7] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/asbestos-in-parliament-could-poison-mps-dvv9bqhw5

[8] http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/mesothelioma/risks-causes

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