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IMI Magazine

Industrial Injury - Asbestos, the ongoing threat

Because asbestos is highly resistant to heat and chemicals, it was used in thousands of products and buildings in this country including, of course, brake and clutch linings.

It was common workshop practice to check the brake linings around every 12 months on most cars and clean them off, using air lines to remove the dust. It was the inhalation of this dust that we now know to have been so dangerous. If necessary, the brake linings and clutch linings would be replaced, again using air lines for dust removal.

In later years came the introduction of ‘hoovers’, or brake cleaning fluid would be sprayed on the dust to avoid it rising in the atmosphere. Asbestos brake and clutch linings continued to feature in vehicles until the 1990s, although it was no longer to be found on new components from the OE suppliers.

With garages unaware of the dangers, many did not have appropriate extractor systems and did not provide masks or protective clothing. Overalls would have become contaminated and should not have been taken home for washing. Exposure to the dust can cause a number of illnesses including the development of pleural plaques. This is scarring of the lung but causes no physical disability and those who have it are usually unaware that they have any problem. Pleural plaques do not cause pain or breathlessness, but may show up on chest x-rays.

Diffuse pleural thickening is similar to pleural plaques but involves more of the pleura which is the membrane surrounding the lungs. It may cause breathlessness and/or chest tightness and get larger with time.

Asbestosis means that the lungs are damaged by the body's inflammatory reaction to asbestos fibres. The inflammation results in scar tissue building up. The build-up reduces the elasticity of the lungs and they become stiff, making it less easy for them to inflate on breathing. Asbestosis causes breathlessness and a cough and chest tightness and can progress even if the exposure to asbestos has ceased. The damage cannot be reversed and the extent of the progress of the illness varies widely, as does the effect on breathing.Mesothelioma is a very aggressive cancer. People suffer from chest pain, breathlessness, loss of appetite and weight.

Lung cancer associated with asbestos usually occurs in people who smoke heavily and have been heavily exposed to asbestos. The symptoms are a prolonged period of cough, sputum, occasional blood in the sputum, lack of appetite and weight loss.

Anyone who has worked with asbestos products in a garage would be well advised to ask their GP for an x-ray approximately every five years.

If plaques or any asbestos condition are detected on the x-ray, the person involved should consider filing a claim for damages against the employer who is believed to be responsible for the exposure.

It’s within the court’s power to allow the sufferer to come back for further damages in the future if a more serious illness develops. Even if an employer no longer exists, it may be possible to lodge a claim against the insurance company responsible for that employer’s liability cover.

Apart from legal damages, people suffering from asbestos illnesses are also entitled to claim a variety of benefits including Industrial Disablement Benefit and Attendance Allowance for those who require care for the illness. There is also a compensation scheme run by the Department of Works and Pensions.

Technically, claims must be filed within three years of diagnosis, but a court has the discretion to extend this if there are reasonable grounds for delay. For further information contact Brigitte Chandler on 01793 511055 or e-mail brigitte. chandler@clmsolicitors.co.uk. Department for Work and Pensions, general enquiries 020 7712 2171.