Effects of asbestos can lay dormant for 40 years before causing problems
Alan Scott-Davies, senior legal claims adviser with South West personal injury solicitors Harris Fowler, explains why we should all be concerned at the rise in asbestos-related conditions and what those affected can do.
Asbestos has been used in manufacturing and construction for many years but it is only in recent times that we have become aware of just how dangerous the product is. Asbestos is a mineral that is made up of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen and other metal ions but they form needle shaped fibres that are so small that they cannot be seen unless the concentration in the air is fairly heavy. It was a revolution in the late 19th century because asbestos has good sound absorption, strength, insulation and because of its resistance to fire. It was also cheap and therefore used in numerous ways including, for example, motor vehicle brake-linings and railway carriages.
What we have discovered about asbestos in recent years led to someone describing that in the 1940s it was installed into ships and buildings by men in shirts and shorts. In the 1990s it was being removed by men wearing space-suits and that gives a stark indication of how harmful it is.
The problems of exposure to asbestos particles reached such levels worldwide that Michael Bowker, an American author, wrote a book entitled Fatal Deception – The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. This chilling account of workers being exposed to asbestos in industrial America could equally have been written about the UK and we are experiencing the same alarming levels of people contracting asbestos related diseases.
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The facts are that exposure to asbestos, which can remain dormant in the body for 35 to 40 years before presenting with the symptoms, is killing approximately 2,300 people in the UK each year. Children are more likely to develop an asbestos related illness than adults because they normally live longer and this allows more time for the disease to develop. Consider how many schools were fitted with asbestos!
You need not have worked with asbestos in order to develop asbestosis or mesothelioma as it can be caused by only small amounts of exposure. Indeed it is not uncommon for women to have contracted the disease having regularly washed their husband's clothing wondering what that plume of white dust was in the utility room!
It is possible to claim compensation for an asbestos related disease if you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma cancer, pleural thickening or asbestosis lung cancer. Of course many potential claimants worry that the companies they worked for may have ceased trading many years ago but it is the insurers of those companies where the exposure took place that will be paying compensation. There is also no limit to the number of companies you can claim from if you worked for several over your working life. If this information is not available there is also an avenue to claim compensation from the Government.
The best advice is therefore to seek guidance from a specialist firm of solicitors as soon as the diagnosis of any of these conditions has been confirmed. The law can't resolve the numerous medical complications associated with these terrible diseases but the careful management of a compensation claim could ease that financial burden if a claimant is unable to work and needs specialist treatment.
Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can offer advice to anyone who has suffered as a result of working with asbestos. Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website www.harrisfowler.co.uk Harris Fowler is a trading name of Harris Fowler Limited and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority no. 558271.