What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral used as a heat and fire resistant insulating material. It was extensively used in the UK from the 1950s to the 1980s in a wide range of building materials and products including:
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Insulation for pipes and boilers
- Asbestos insulating boards used for ceiling, door and window panels
- Textured coatings such as Artex
- Asbestos cement sheeting used for walls and roofs
- Brake and clutch linings and pads
There are three main types of asbestos Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos), Amosite (Brown Asbestos) and Chrysotile (White Asbestos). It is impossible to distinguish the different types of asbestos by sight.
Blue and brown asbestos were banned in the 1980s; however white asbestos was still used in a variety of products until 1999 when it was also banned. Due to its extensive use as a construction material, any building that was constructed prior to 2000 is likely to contain some asbestos.
Why is it dangerous
Asbestos is extremely toxic to the human body. When materials containing asbestos are damaged or disturbed microscopic fibres are released into the air. If the fibres are inhaled they can become trapped in the body and over time can cause inflammation, which can lead to the development of serious and potentially fatal health problems.
Asbestos is recognised as the UK’s biggest workplace killer. According to the Health & Safety Executive around 20 tradesmen die every week from asbestos related conditions and 5000 deaths per year are caused by asbestos.
Diseases Caused by Asbestos
There are a number of diseases that are known to be caused by asbestos.
Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lining of the lungs (pleura) and the lower digestive tract (peritoneum). It is almost exclusively caused by asbestos.
Lung cancer can be caused when asbestos fibres are breathed in and become lodged in the lungs.
Asbestosis is diffuse pulmonary fibrosis caused by breathing in excessive amounts of asbestos fibres. It is a progressively disabling condition which can result in significant respiratory disability.
Pleural thickening is a thickening of the pleural surfaces of the lungs. It can cause breathlessness and chest pain.
Pleural plaques are small areas of scarring on the lining of the lungs. They are usually asymptomatic which means they will not cause any breathlessness or disability.
A pleural effusion is a build up of fluid in the chest cavity. They may be asymptomatic or can cause chest pain. In some cases, they may give result in the development of pleural thickening.
Who is at risk of developing an asbestos related condition
There are low levels of asbestos present in the general environment. Most people will not develop health problems from such low level environmental exposure. However, people who have been exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, through work or significant environmental exposure, may develop serious illnesses.
Due to its prevalence as a building material people working in construction, building maintenance and refurbishment are particularly at risk.
Occupations most at risk include:
- Asbestos product manufacturers
- Asbestos Miners
- Insulation workers
- Railway Workers
- Power Station Workers
- Motor Mechanics
You might also be at risk if you have lived with a worker who was exposed to asbestos. Relatives of workers in jobs which exposed them to asbestos are also known to have contracted asbestos related conditions from washing clothes covered in asbestos dust.
Asbestos related illnesses develop very slowly. It can take anywhere between 10 to 50 years from exposure for the symptoms to develop.
There are strict time limits for making a claim for compensation. By law you have 3 years from the date your condition is diagnosed to start court proceedings. It is therefore important to obtain specialist legal advice as soon as possible.
If you think you could be suffering from an asbestos related illness you should seek medical advice immediately.
If you, or a loved one, have been diagnosed with an asbestos related illness you should seek specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity. You may also be entitled to other financial assistance or benefits.
Contact our specialist occupational disease team today for a free consultation to discuss the options available to you and whether you have a potential claim for compensation and your eligibility for financial assistance.
Who can claim?
You need to have been diagnosed with an asbestos related condition. It is important to know what condition you are suffering from. Some of the conditions are more serious than others and not every condition will give rise to a compensation claim. You should therefore ensure that you ask your doctor which of the asbestos related conditions you have.
You need to be able to prove where and in what circumstances you were exposed to asbestos. It will usually be necessary to compile a list of every job you have done and to identify in which jobs you came into contact with asbestos. You will need to be able to prove that you worked for the relevant companies. A full list of all your employers from 1961 onwards can be obtained from HM Revenue & Customs.
If you did not work directly with asbestos you may have a relative who worked with asbestos or you may have lived in an area where there was a factory which produced asbestos.
Is it possible to make a claim if the sufferer has died?
If you die your estate or dependants will be able to continue the claim.
If you are a dependant of someone who has passed away due to an asbestos related illness you can claim compensation. You can also claim if you are the executor or administrator of the estate of someone who has died of an asbestos related disease, if the deceased did not receive compensation before they died.
What if the company I worked for no longer exists?
Due to the time that it takes asbestos related conditions to develop the companies you worked for may well have stopped trading. That does not mean however, that you cannot claim compensation. If we can find out which insurance company covered the company at the time you worked there you can still pursue a claim.
It may be necessary to bring the company back into existence so that court proceedings can be brought against them, but if any compensation is recovered it will be paid by the insurers.
What if the insurer for the company I worked for cannot be traced?
If the insurer cannot be traced you can apply for a payment under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 This is a government schemes which provide lump sum payments for suffers of certain dust related industrial diseases including pleural thickening, asbestosis. If you are suffering from mesothelioma you can apply for a payment under the 2008 Mesothelioma Scheme or Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme.
Is there a time limit for claiming compensation?
You have 3 years from the date your condition is diagnosed to start court proceedings. In the case of a deceased person the time limit for starting court proceedings is 3 years from the date of death. The courts will sometimes allow a claim to proceed even if the 3 year time limit has expired.
Will I need to have a medical examination?
A medical examination will be required to confirm your condition and its long term effects. You will be examined by a qualified chest physician and you will probably also need to have a chest x ray. The medical expert will need to see your medical records to check your medical history and whether there is any alternative condition that might account for your symptoms.
How much compensation will I receive?
The amount of compensation you will receive if your case is successful will depend on a number of factors including your age, your life expectancy, your individual circumstances and the severity of your condition.
How long will my claim take?
Most claims for asbestos related cancer can be completed within 6 – 12 months or less. The courts have a special procedure for dealing with this type of claim to ensure that they are heard quickly.