For any worker at risk of exposure to asbestos, an employer has a duty to prevent harm by all possible means.
My client worked as a steeplejack in the 1980s. During this time it was common for workers in the industry to repeatedly handle asbestos. As part of his role he worked on chimneys, for which asbestos blankets were used between courses of brickwork and asbestos rope was used in the maintenance of the chimney caps. On power station cooling houses he cleaned and replaced asbestos eliminator slats and distribution pipes.
Years later he was diagnosed with extensive diffuse pleural thickening.
A major cause of pleural thickening is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos fibres work their way into the pleura. Pleural thickening symptoms include a tightness of the chest and breathlessness due to the reduced function of the lungs. It is a terrifying fact that pleural thickening develops decades after exposure to asbestos. For many industrial workers the contamination will have taken place years ago and they may be completely unaware of the fact until symptoms begin to manifest many years later.
In relation to my client’s work activities, his employer had a duty of care, meaning that they should have prevented or minimised his exposure to asbestos as far as reasonably practicable. With the knowledge of the extreme health risk posed by asbestos dust and fibres, a worker in this position ought - at the very least - to have been provided with protective equipment.
This duty is clearly outlined in the Controls of Asbestos Regulations 1969 and Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987.
With the knowledge of the extreme health risk posed by asbestos dust and fibres, a worker in this position ought - at the very least - to have been provided with protective equipment.
Today, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 safeguards workers from exposure to asbestos by outlining guidance for employers and duty holders. Any work site, especially one that the public could access, needs to ensure that any asbestos is registered, maintained and eventually removed. This legislation means that a duty holder, usually the owner of the building, must:
- take reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in;
- presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not;
- make, and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos- containing materials - or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos;
- assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified;
- prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from these materials will be managed;
- take the necessary steps to put the plan into action;
- periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date;
- provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them.
For more information, please see the case study: Five-Figure Judgement For Former Steeplejack’s Asbestos Disease
Pauline Chandler is a principal lawyer specialising in industrial disease claims at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a specialist team of asbestos compensation solicitors that deal with asbestos claims on a no win no fee basis. For a free consultation call 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.