Statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive this week show an increase in the number of deaths caused by mesothelioma here in the UK. With figures projected to rise even further until 2020, urgent calls have been made for more research into this deadly disease.
Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is the most serious asbestos related condition. A cancer of the cells which line the internal organs (often the lungs), early mesothelioma symptoms can include breathlessness and chest or back pain. Asbestos was widely used as a building and insulation material throughout much of the 20th Century. The problems caused by asbestos exposure often occur many years after the exposure. Indeed with mesothelioma often not developing until 30-40 years after exposure, these latest figures highlight how exposure has resulted in a generation of workers who have gone on to die because of negligent exposure by employers.
Sadly for me these figures do not come as a surprise. When I successfully dealt with my first mesothelioma claim as a young lawyer some 20 years ago, the general consensus at that time was that asbestos related claims were a historic issue and that within a few years we would see the back of this terrible disease. Today however, asbestos claims are a bigger part of the legal landscape than ever before with no sign at all of the tide of claims reducing. If anything the opposite is quite true.
With no known cure mesothelioma has a drastic impact on life expectancy and the apparent lack of progress into research and treatment is nothing short of disgraceful. Perhaps even more startling is that well into the 1970’s, despite a greater understanding of the risks associated with asbestos, many workers were still handling raw asbestos day in, day out with the full knowledge of their employers. And it’s not just construction and industry workers who are affected. Today more subtle, but just as deadly forms of exposure are now coming to light with postal workers, shop workers and even teachers (amongst others) suffering asbestos related disease.
I certainly back recent calls by those such as Dr John Moore-Gillon of the British Lung Foundation for the insurance industry to fund greater levels of research. Insurance companies tend to foot the bill for successful mesothelioma compensation claims, so investing in vital research is in their best interests in the long-term.
In the meantime it is vitally important for victims of asbestos exposure and their families to come forward and continue to make claims. The importance of compensation for suffers of mesothelioma simply can’t be underestimated. It can help provide specialist medical care and financial security. Whilst any move to prioritise research into asbestos related disease is to be welcomed, this should not detract from the obligations of insurance companies to deal with these claims, and provide practical help and financial support to the victims and their families. Until such a time as any real progress is made into treating these illnesses, it may well be that the best legal and medical professionals can do is to make sure financial redress is swift and fair.Find out more about our Occupational Disease department