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Asbestos – still the biggest cause of workplace deaths

While you might think that asbestos in building work is old news, a recent report by the Health and Safety Executive found that asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths here in the UK.

Widely used in a range of industries and buildings from schools to residential properties, offices to warehouses from the 1940’s onwards, asbestos in its deadliest form (blue and brown) has been banned in the construction industry for a number of years. Despite this however, many structures still contain the substance and refurbishment contractors regularly come across it even today.

Employers, of course, are obligated to protect today’s employees from asbestos exposure; obligations that are covered by the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.  In general these regulations state that:

  • If existing asbestos containing materials are in good condition and are not likely to be damaged, they may be left in place; their condition monitored and managed to ensure they are not disturbed.
  • If you’re responsible for maintenance of non-domestic premises, you have a ‘duty to manage’ asbestos risk and exposure. Assessment of this risk/exposure must include plans as to how the work will be carried out safely.
  • All asbestos work requiring a license must be done by a licensed contractor and notified in advance to HSE.
  • Non-licensed work requires effective controls with some non-licensed work needing to be notified to the relevant enforcing authority. Written records should be kept of non-licensed work.
  • Training is mandatory for anyone  liable to be exposed to these fibres at work. This includes maintenance  workers and others who may come into contact with or disturb asbestos (e.g. cable installers), as well as those involved in asbestos removal work.
  • From April 2015, all workers/self-employed doing notifiable non-licensed work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a Doctor.

While these regulations are of course welcome, they don’t help protect the generation of workers who were previously exposed to asbestos. With the symptoms of exposure often only manifesting themselves several decades later, those most at risk are now be aged between 50 – 70 years old.

Currently there are around 2,000 – 2,500 cases of mesothelioma in the UK each year (the most serious asbestos related condition) not to mention other related asbestos related conditions such as  asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening and lung cancer. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain and abdominal swelling.

Worryingly exposure to asbestos often goes unnoticed, with many workers believing themselves to have had little or no exposure until the illness develops in later life.

In 2012 a landmark UK Supreme Court ruling placed exposure firmly in the spotlight. The Court ruled that relatives of workers who died of mesothelioma could make claims against insurers going back to when the exposure first occurred, rather than from when the symptoms presented themselves. This can be important as many companies that were responsible for the exposure no longer exist, but if the relevant insurer can be traced from the time of exposure, a claim can still be made.

Furthermore, it is now easier to trace the insurers of any original employers through the Employer’s Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) so that even if a previous employer no longer exists, has moved premises or has been taken over by another company it may still be possible to claim against the insurer.

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural thickening or asbestos related lung cancer, you may be entitled to claim compensation.

There is more help available now for mesothelioma victims than ever before including a new scheme which allows those diagnosed with the disease after 25th July 2012, and claiming against a business which wasn’t insured or where insurers cannot be traced, to still obtain compensation.

You can speak to a member of our team on 0161 835 8832. Alternatively, please email a summary of your potential claim and contact details to claire.reddicen@lindermyers.co.uk

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