For many people it will be a surprise to learn that asbestos related disease claims are still being brought in large numbers. After all, controls on the use of asbestos were gradually introduced at the end of the 1960s, with the use of asbestos in the UK banned, in the case of some types of asbestos, in 1985, with the remaining types seeing their death knell by government legislation, finally, in 1999.
As long ago as 2004, writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Tom Treasure, suggested that in his opinion, the peak of what he called an ‘epidemic’ of deaths from mesothelioma, would be between 2015 and 2020, when he expected around 2000 people a year would die from the disease alone. His prophecy has proved to be correct because according to statistics provided by the Office of National Statistics the number of people dying from mesothelioma alone in England and Wales, in 2015 was 2205, with an estimated number of similar deaths occurring from asbestos related lung cancer.
So how can it be that some 17 years on from asbestos use of any type being brought to an end in the UK that so many people are dying from such diseases as mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer? The answer to this question is because of something called, ‘the latency period.’
The Latency Period
Asbestos related diseases, or illnesses, have what is known as, a long ‘latency period’. The ‘latency period’ is the time between initial exposure to asbestos and a doctor diagnosing an asbestosis related illness. The latency period for pleural thickening, mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis can be anything from 10 years through to 50 years and hence the reason that asbestos diseases are more of a problem than ever before.
What Are the Main Types of Asbestos Disease For Which Compensation Can Be Claimed?
- Mesothelioma – A cancer that affects the lining that cover the outer surface of body organs (usually the lungs). It is rarely possible to cure mesothelioma and its cause is almost invariably from exposure to asbestos fibres.
- Asbestos related lung cancer – The main difference between lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, is that the Asbestos related lung cancer, whilst starting in the lungs can spread to other parts of the body.
- Pleural Thickening – A non-malignant (non-cancerous) condition which causes thickening of the out layer of the lungs. This restricts the movement of the lungs thereby causing breathlessness.
- Asbestosis – Fibrosis of the lungs, caused by heavy exposure to asbestos. It can shorten the life of a sufferer, but most people who die having contracted asbestosis, do so because they have gone on to develop lung cancer or mesothelioma.
It is worth adding to this list, something that it is not possible to claim for anymore (in England and Wales) and which often gets confused with Pleural Thickening. This is a non-malignant condition called Pleural Plaques. This occurs where exposure to asbestos has caused scarring to the lungs in small patches, without causing thickening and as such, Pleural Plaques do not cause symptoms. Since August 2011, it has not been possible for those diagnosed with Pleural Plaques, to bring compensation claims for Pleural Plaques, in England and Wales.
Common symptoms of asbestos related diseases include the following:-
- A persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
It should be emphasised that having one or more of these symptoms, does not mean that a person is suffering from an asbestos related illness. However if you suffer from any one or more of such symptoms and you have worked with asbestos, even if it was a long time ago, you would be strongly advised to see your GP as soon as possible, even if it just to rule out the possibility of asbestosis. It is important to make the GP aware of any history that you have, of working with asbestos, otherwise the he, or she, may understandably not have at the forefront of his or her mind that they may be dealing with a patient who might have suffered illness as a result of asbestos exposure.
What were the occupations where workers were most likely to have been exposed to prolonged asbestos exposure?
- Building and construction industry
- Power Station workers
- Shipyard workers
- Manufacturing industry (eg Turner & Newall)
- Coach and vehicle body builders
- Metal plate workers, shipwrights and riveters
- Plumbing, heating and ventilation engineers
- Carpenters and joiners
- Electrical, energy and boiler related plants operatives
- Electricians, electrical maintenance fitters
- Sheet metal workers
- Mechanical engineers
- Metal working production and maintenance fitters
The list is not exhaustive and indeed, there are also a number of cases where the wives and other family members of workers, who, whilst not working in asbestos related industries themselves, nevertheless contracted mesothelioma from washing the work clothes of their loved ones as a result inhaling asbestos fumes and fibres, during the washing process.
We are sometimes contacted by people who are concerned that they have in the past, or in some cases still, live in properties where there was or is asbestos in the structure of the building. For those who still live in such properties, their first post of call should be the local council to try to arrange for the safe removal of any asbestos that is still present in the structure by arranging for properly qualified asbestos removal contractors safely remove it. They will not only remove it but will ensure that this is done in a manner that does not put the occupants of the property at risk, whilst it is being removed.
As a rule of thumb though, asbestos is unlikely to cause or have caused a problem in such situations where it has been left intact. Asbestos causes risk of exposure, generally, only when it is cut, drilled or otherwise worked on, thereby causing asbestos fibres to be released into the air, thus causing a risk of those fibres being inhaled.
The risk of those who were subjected to exposure to asbestos many years ago, in previous high risk occupations, developing one of the asbestos related diseases or illnesses, is still very real. It is highly probable that in future years the numbers of those becoming affected will gradually start to drop off. However, there are, sadly, no real signs of this happening in the very near future and consequently the numbers of those seeking to make claims for asbestos disease compensation are likely to stay at the present level, over the next few years. It is equally likely that there are people who sustained exposure to asbestos, probably many, many years ago, who are unaware of the risks that they still have of contracting one of the asbestos related diseases or who are even showing the early signs of having contracted one of the illnesses.
If you or a family member is concerned that they might have symptoms of an asbestos related disease, it is imperative that they seek advice from their GP as soon as possible. If you are suffering from any of the asbestos conditions outlined above, we can help you to obtain compensation. For a no obligation discussion contact our highly experienced asbestos disease compensation solicitors on 01423 788 538 or by emailing us at [email protected].