Labourer develops lung disease more than 50 years after asbestos exposure

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Labourer develops lung disease more than 50 years after asbestos exposure

9th October 2012

A retired Southampton man who developed a debilitating lung condition after being exposed to asbestos more than 50 years ago has received £60,000 in an out of court settlement.

Susan Dawson, an industrial disease specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said her client was diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening in 2009 after suffering years of increasingly extreme breathlessness.

“Diffuse pleural thickening is a condition whereby damage and thickening of the wall between the lungs and ribcage restricts the lungs from expanding and causes chest pains and breathlessness,” said Susan, a solicitor at the firm. “When caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres, it can take decades for pleural thickening to become apparent on chest x-rays.”

Susan said her client was just a teenager when, in the early 1960s, he was employed as a labourer at a power station in Southampton and frequently subjected to prolonged contact with asbestos.

“My client was required to remove asbestos lagging from around boiler hatches and pipework to enable teams of laggers and boilermakers to replace the ageing material once it had become frayed from the heat of the pipes,” added Susan. “Armed only with a hammer, chisel and a screwdriver, his job involved chipping away at the flaking asbestos lagging and sweeping all the resulting debris into bins for disposal.”

In addition, the claimant, who is now in his 60s, had to work directly alongside the pipelaggers who prepared the lagging by mixing water with asbestos in oil drums. The mixing process alone created a phenomenal amount of asbestos dust and as the pipework was continually being repaired and maintained, the claimant was often exposed to the toxic dust on a daily basis.

“Although asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye they are extremely dangerous if inhaled,” said Susan. “Not only did my client have to perform his role whilst breathing air heavily contaminated with microscopic asbestos fibres but he also had to contend with his hair and overalls being almost constantly coated in asbestos dust. Although his employers provided onsite showers and clean overalls each week, unbelievably, they never thought to warn him of the dangers of working with asbestos nor did they ever instruct him to use any kind of protective mask.”

Over the last 10 years, the claimant has suffered continuous respiratory problems and was initially told he had emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2002, he was admitted to hospital suffering breathlessness and was told that a dark shadow on his lung was an indication of asbestos exposure. When he was readmitted to hospital in 2006, he was diagnosed with a condition known as pleural plaques, which are essentially scarring and fibrosis of the lungs caused by the inhalation and retention of asbestos fibres.

“In the last few years, my client has repeatedly been in and out of hospital for his respiratory problems,” said Susan. “He has now been diagnosed with significant pleural thickening - which is a thickening of the lining surrounding the lungs - and his breathlessness has reached a point where he now requires oxygen therapy for up to 16 hours a day.

“It is a tragedy that so many people who worked with asbestos in the 1950s and 1960s were exposed by their employers with so little regard for their safety,” added Susan. “As a direct result of the asbestos he had no choice but to inhale each day at work my client suffered significant damage to his lungs. As his illness continues to deteriorate it is hoped the settlement he has now received will help him secure the full-time nursing care he is likely to require in the future.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of industrial diseases.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.