What is an Industrial Disease?
Industrial disease includes such conditions as Noise Induced Hearing Loss, Vibration induced hearing loss, Asbestosis, Pleural thickening, mesothelioma and dermatitis to name but a few. They can also include other conditions attributable to exposure to toxins and carcinogenics such as blood cancer and bladder cancer. If you have been diagnosed with a condition and are unsure whether or not it could be related to your employment then it is worth asking your doctor. If it is related to your employment, you may be entitled to compensation.
What are the dangers of working with asbestos?
From the 1800s onwards, asbestos in its various forms started to be used extensively throughout British industry. Its use became widespread because of its many useful physical properties, particularly its resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage, and, above all, its affordability.
Asbestos resistance to heat and fire led it to be used as a form of electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation. The fibres were also commonly mixed with cement to create asbestos cement, which was used to lag pipework woven into the fabric of mats. The flexibility of the asbestos material made asbestos use widespread and asbestos in its various forms could be found in many products, including brake pads and linings, gaskets and fireproof clothing.
The earliest reports in Britain of the possible consequences and damage to health, resulting from exposure to asbestos, began to appear in the late 19th century. The annual reports of the Chief Inspector of Factories recorded as early as 1898 that asbestos had “easily demonstrated” health risks. The first official diagnosis of asbestosis was made in 1924.
However, the true extent of the dangers associated with asbestos, and in particular the dangers that asbestos particles and dust can have on the respiratory system, only really came to light in the 1960s and 1970s.
Are there any regulations on working with asbestos in the UK?
The first laws prohibiting asbestos use were introduced in 1985, when importing blue and brown asbestos into the UK was banned. In 1992 some uses of white asbestos (traditionally considered safer than other forms) were also banned. In 1999 all types of asbestos were finally banned in the UK.
Although asbestos is no longer used, there is no requirement to remove it from existing buildings. Asbestos has been used in the building trade and other industries for over 200 years. There are still large amounts of the material in many UK buildings, which means that it continues to pose a very real threat to people’s health today. Indeed, by example there has been an increasing number of individuals who worked in schools, who come forward having been diagnosed with an illness as a result of asbestos exposure. Malcolm Underhill of IBB Law has spoken on radio and television about the continuing dangers of asbestos in the workplace, notwithstanding the ban on its use.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 specify who is responsible for managing asbestos in work environments. The person with this responsibility is known as the “duty holder”. They will usually be the owner of the affected building, the tenant, or the person otherwise in control of the building.
The duty holders’ responsibilities include:
- taking all reasonable measures to find out if there are asbestos containing materials in non—domestic premises.
- Where asbestos is present, determining where it is, how much there is and what condition it is in.
- Creating and keeping up to date a record of this information.
- Assessing the risk of asbestos exposure for anyone entering the building.
- Creating a risk management plan for anyone who may be exposed to the asbestos.
- Taking all necessary steps to put the risk management plan into effect, including making sure anyone at potential risk of exposure knows the location and condition of the asbestos and what they need to do, to minimise the risk of exposure.
If asbestos-containing materials need to be removed from a building this should be done by a licensed asbestos contractor or a trained asbestos contractor, depending on the exact nature of the building and the work being carried out.
How does asbestos cause mesothelioma?
Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres that are invisible to the naked eye. These fibres can be breathed in by anyone exposed to asbestos. The fibres can then become lodged in the pleura lining around the lungs, or the peritoneum lining around the digestive organs (if they are swallowed).
The body is incapable of breaking down the fibres, but they still trigger an immune response. The natural chemicals the immune system releases to break down foreign objects do not work on the asbestos fibres and instead these chemicals end up damaging the pleural or peritoneal lining (depending on where the fibres are lodged). Over time this leads to genetic mutations which can ultimately cause cells to become cancerous.
Asbestos generally only becomes a problem when it is disturbed and damaged. This can lead to the microscopic fibres being released and becoming airborne. The asbestos can then be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity who is not wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. Fibres can also become lodged in clothing and then released again at a later point. This means that indirect exposure to asbestos fibres can occur to anyone who comes into contact with someone who has been working with asbestos.
Asbestos fibres cannot be removed once they are lodged in a persons’ body, meaning they remain within a person’s respiratory system or the lining around their digestive organs for years, before symptoms develop.
In the past, the dangers of asbestos exposure were not as well understood, or always taken as seriously as they should have been, by workers and employers. This means the correct precautions were not always taken by employers to ensure that their employees were protected against the dangers of asbestos. As a result, many people continue to develop asbestos-related illnesses today, due to exposure that happened decades ago.
Where a link can be proved between the asbestos-related illness and exposure whilst working, and it can be shown that a company failed in their duty of care to their workers, or others who were indirectly affected, it may be possible to bring a claim for mesothelioma compensation. A claim can be made even if they have not worked for the relevant employer for many years. A claim can also be made for those who did not work for the company.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that normally starts in the tissue covering the lungs (the pleura). Less commonly, it can begin in the tissue around the digestive organs (the peritoneum). Currently around 2,700 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK and the disease has a low survival rate (around 50% 1-year survival rate, 5-10% 5-year survival rate).
Most cases of pleural mesothelioma are caused by asbestos exposure and many cases of peritoneal mesothelioma are also caused by exposure to asbestos. This exposure most commonly happens in the workplace, with 90% of men and 80% of women with the disease having been in contact with asbestos.
Mesothelioma is much more common in men than women, with around 5 times more male sufferers than female. This is most likely due to the fact that more men have traditionally worked in industries where they were likely to come into contact with asbestos. However, this statistic may change as people, from other occupations, are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
Who is at risk from mesothelioma?
Whilst exposure to asbestos is often related to the construction industry, the material was used in an enormous range of products and industries, before being banned.
Mesothelioma is most commonly found in men who worked in manufacturing products containing asbestos and those who regularly used those products, including in the construction and engineering industries. Plate metal workers in the ship building industry and carpenters are some of the highest risk professions.
The risks appear to be higher for people exposed to asbestos when they were aged under 30. Research shows around 6% of British men born in the 1940s who spent 10 or more years working as carpenters before they turned 30 develop mesothelioma.
Other high risk professions include:
- Insulation workers
- Textiles workers
- Gas fitters
- Carpet fitters
- Trawling industry
As asbestos use fell sharply from the mid-1970s, when the law and public understanding about the dangers of expose began to change, mesothelioma is most common among those who worked in high-risk professions before this time. However, we are now seeing others, who did not work directly with asbestos, suffering. Most notably those working in our schools may have been exposed to asbestos and there is now a campaign to have asbestos removed, to protect children and staff. Although there has been a focus on people working in education, as many public buildings contain asbestos, the risk is much wider.
Symptoms of mesothelioma
In the early stages of mesothelioma, there may be few or no symptoms. In the later stages, where the cancer has begun to grow, the following symptoms may be experienced:
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing
- A hoarse voice
- Trouble swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight
- High temperature and sweating
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight
- Constipation or diarrhoea
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
Treatment for mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is generally very hard to treat, especially as it is often not found until the disease is quite advanced. The exact treatment offered will normally depend on where the cancer is located, how advanced it is and the general health and fitness of the patient.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with many patients receiving some combination of all of these treatments. Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma, so the goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and extend the life of the patient for as long as possible.
Most patients will end up needing some degree of palliative care when they reach the advanced stages of mesothelioma. This commonly includes helping them to manage symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties and weight loss to keep the patient as comfortable as possible.
From our experience and knowledge, we know that over many years the Health and Safety Executive have predicted the gradual decline in the number of reported cases of death arising out of exposure to asbestos. However, there is no obvious sign of a decline. The latest figures, from 2016, show that there were 2,595 mesothelioma deaths in 2016, with an estimate that there were a similar number of deaths due to asbestos related lung cancer.
Only time will tell as to whether the numbers will begin to fall, but with the knowledge that those who were not directly engaged in the use of asbestos but came into contact with it, through their work, such as in schools and hospitals, it may well be that the figure continues to remain unattractively high for many years to come.
Other asbestos-related diseases
Mesothelioma is just one of the diseases that can be caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. Many of these diseases can cause serious health complications and even be fatal.
Some of the most common asbestos-related diseases, besides mesothelioma, include:
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
- Asbestosis – a form of pneumoconiosis (a general term for a type of damage done to the interior of the lung by inhaled dust)
- Pleural thickening – Asbestos-related pleural thickening that occurs when the lining of the lung (the pleura) hardens as a reaction to asbestos fibres that have found their way into the lung
- Pleural plaques – Asbestos-related pleural plaques that are small areas of localised thickening or scarring of the lining of the lung
As with mesothelioma, it is not unusual for the symptoms of these asbestos-related illnesses to be slow to develop, often not becoming apparent until decades after exposure.
What is pleural plaques?
This is the least serious disease arising out of exposure to asbestos. Plaques are scars on the lining of the lung. An individual will not know he has the scars and very often there are no physical symptoms.
What is asbestosis?
This is type of lung scarring caused by inhaling asbestos fibres, most frequently occurring from workplace and employment exposure. It is a non-cancerous condition. A notable symptom is breathlessness. It cannot be reversed and may progress to cause lung cancer.
What is lung cancer?
Although lung cancer is associated with smoking it can also be caused by exposure to asbestos.
How can I claim for a disease caused by exposure to asbestos?
Asbestos related claims are complex by nature. Unlike some personal injury claims which occur due to an incident on a specific date, a successful asbestos illness claim requires detailed investigations and knowledge in order to not only identify the precise cause of the illness but also to ensure that a claim is advanced within the relevant time period. This often takes determination and patience, particularly the latter as it is important to carefully and diligently build the claim to maximise the prospects of success.
The aim of the investigation is to find what steps, if any an employer took to protect workers and others from exposure to asbestos, to establish if there was a failure (in accordance with the law at the time the person was exposed) and that the illness diagnosed was caused by exposure to asbestos and not something else. To achieve those objectives specialist knowledge and skills are required to ensure that pertinent enquiries are made to establish the facts. Furthermore, it is vital to receive a diagnosis from a doctor with clarification as to the cause of the illness, as well as providing a diagnosis.
Is there a time limit for making a compensation claim for exposure to asbestos?
The general time limit for bringing a claim is three years from the date of the accident or injury, or more pertinently in relation to an asbestos compensation claim, three years from when you knew that your illness was linked to work or some other cause. This is known as the date of knowledge and is particularly important in asbestos compensation claims as symptoms and diagnosis often only occur, some 20, 30 or 40 years after exposure to asbestos.
As these claims are complex, it is important to take advice as soon as possible following diagnosis where you believe the disease has been caused by exposure in a workplace environment. Time is often of the essence in an asbestos compensation claims, so do not delay.
How Much Compensation Will I get?
The amount of compensation you will receive if your claim succeeds will depend on a number of factors including the severity of the industrial disease you have suffered, the impact the disease has on your day to day life. Any valuation will be based upon the specialist medical opinion obtained in support of your claim as every case is viewed on its individual circumstances – no two claims are the same.
I Cannot Afford to Pay Legal Fees. Can I still claim?
It is frequently the case that cases are funded by what is colloquially known as “no win, no fee” agreements, which means you do not to have to worry about having to pay legal fees to bring a claim. Furthermore, you can protect yourself from not having to pay the other side’s legal costs if you lose, by taking out a policy of insurance, which costs nothing if you lose. Therefore, you can bring claim without having to worry about paying legal fees either to IBB or the other party.
How Long Will My Case Take?
Every case is different. The time to settle the case will be determined by a number of factors including whether or not liability is admitted by the defendants, whether the insurers for a potential defendant can be easily traced. The time a claim will take to settle will also depend on the type of condition and most often the stance adopted by your opponent; we would hope to conclude a straight forward disease case in between 12 and 18 months
Are you prepared to visit us at home if necessary?
Yes. We will do this whenever we both consider it will be useful to meet to discuss the case. We will meet during the day, in the evenings, or at weekends.
Can we phone you if we have any problems?
Yes. If your lawyer is not here, then one of our assistants can take a message and we will call back. You will have our landline and mobile contact numbers.
Will you keep in regular contact with us, and how will this be done?
We will keep in regular contact, advising regularly on the progress of the case and identifying milestones. We will set out what we have to do to win the case. We will write, either letter or e mail, whatever you prefer.
My former employer is no longer trading can I still claim?
Yes, any compensation will be paid by the insurer for the employer at the time of your employment. Provided we are able to trace the insurer your claim can proceed.
I haven’t worked for the company I think caused my condition for a number of years. Can I still claim?
This will depend on what kind of disease you are claiming for. In a claim for injuries arising from an accident you have 3 years from the date of the accident to commence Court proceedings. However in a disease case the condition caused by work can often take years to develop. In the event of a slow developing condition caused by work, your time limit would start from the day you were made aware that your condition was significant and has been linked to your previous employment. If you are unsure about this and would like to discuss this further please call us again all cases are different and the advice you will be given will be based on your own individual circumstances.
Is it still possible to bring a claim when someone has died?
If someone has died as a result of being exposed to asbestos then it is still possible to bring a claim, although as there are strict time limits about bringing such a claim, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. One of the reasons for this is that there is likely to be an inquest and having legal representation at the coroner’s inquest will make it possible to obtain important information that will assist in making an asbestos compensation claim.
Will I have to go to court?
People are naturally worried about having to go to court we understand that this can be an uncomfortable experience. However it is very rare for a claim of this type to reach Court as most cases settling beforehand. If in the unlikely event you do have to go to court we will provide you with all the support necessary and will make sure we do all the hard work.
Are IBB Claims the right choice for asbestos compensation claims?
To start an asbestos compensation claim or to find out more about how you make a claim, please contact us today by calling 0333 123 9099.
Our team of experts in various aspects of personal injury compensation, including asbestos compensation claims. We have years of experience and are proud to help a wide variety of people in the community to make successful asbestos compensation claims.
We treat each client as an individual, taking the time to understand your unique situation and requirements, so we can offer tailored advice and guidance to help you get the best possible result. We will speak to you in plain English. We do not use jargon and avoid antiquated phrases. You are in control of the claims process and we help you make the important decisions.
When you come to us about making a claim, we will provide a free initial consultation to assess the strength of your claim. We were then give you a realistic idea as to how likely you are to make a successful claim and what compensation you may be entitled to.
Legal aid was taken away by the government many years ago and is now only available in very limited circumstances. However, we offer our clients a “no-win, no fee” agreement. This means you do not have to worry about paying our legal costs if you lose. Members of our team are members of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (“APIL”). Malcolm Underhill, Partner, is a fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and is an assessor for the Law Society Catastrophic injury scheme. These achievements reflect our strong expertise across all areas of personal injury law and our commitment to maintaining the highest possible standards for our clients. Malcolm Underhill has appeared on television and radio to speak about the consequences of being exposed to asbestos.
If you would like further information about making a compensation claim for injuries sustained as a result of exposure to asbestos, contact one of our specialist lawyers, by telephoning 0333 123 9099, or emailing us at, or completing the enquiry form.