Asbestos is a fibrous, naturally occurring material which is fireproof and an excellent insulator which led to its widespread use throughout the 20th Century in buildings and workplaces all over the country. It is also incredibly harmful to a person’s health, a fact which was understood by governments and employers by at least the 1930s. Sadly, workers continued to be exposed to asbestos dusts and fibres for decades before serious steps were finally taken in the 1970s to minimise the risks of working with asbestos. It was not until 1987 that legislation was introduced that finally required employers to prevent their employees from being exposed to asbestos at all.
By then, hundreds of thousands of people had been needlessly and negligently exposed to asbestos, all of which could have been avoided had warnings about its dangers been heeded more than 50 years prior.
There are several diseases that asbestos can cause, ranging from pleural plaques*, pleural thickening and asbestosis, to lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is particularly painful. Unfortunately, it is incurable and always fatal, with an average life expectancy of only 12 to 18 months. It is almost exclusively caused by asbestos.
Mesothelioma is somewhat unique amongst asbestos related disease in that it can be caused by only a very small dose of asbestos, whereas the other diseases usually develop only after being exposed to a significant amount of asbestos over a longer period of time.
Asbestos related diseases have a long latency period, which means that it can be many years – sometimes more than 50 years – after a person was first exposed to asbestos before they start to develop any symptoms. That means that people are still developing and suffering from asbestos related diseases today, and many more will unfortunately do so in future, despite having not worked around asbestos for decades.
That’s why it’s important to inform your doctor if you have worked with or were around asbestos in the past when discussing any sort of chest symptoms such as coughs, breathlessness or pain. Despite the long gap since being around asbestos, sadly it could still be relevant.
With cases of mesothelioma expected to peak in the next year or two at over 2,500 deaths per year, it is as important as ever for lawyers to stay up to date on all the latest developments and practices in asbestos related disease claims.
This February, I was in attendance at the Asbestos Disease Course and Conference in London, organised by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). It was a chance to learn and refresh knowledge in what is a challenging but very rewarding area of law, but it was also a great opportunity to meet with fellow lawyers and specialist barristers who practice in asbestos disease claims.
The course allowed attendees to share their knowledge on the best ways we can assist those suffering from asbestos related diseases, whether that’s by advising on the benefits and lump sum payments they may be entitled to through the DWP, fighting for the cost of cutting edge treatment, or simply getting sufferers the compensation they and their families deserve.
There are time limits for bringing a claim, so if you are suffering from an asbestos related disease you should speak to a lawyer who specialises in asbestos claims as soon as possible.
* Pleural plaques are an accumulation of chalky material in the lining of the lungs, but they are usually painless and symptomless. A person with pleural plaques is not at any increased chance of developing one of the other more serious asbestos related diseases mentioned above. For this reason, you cannot claim compensation for pleural plaques in England and Wales, but if you were exposed in Scotland or Northern Ireland a claim may still be possible. You should consult a specialist lawyer in the respective country.