At Asbestos Justice, we are experienced at dealing with complex, asbestos disease claims and a recently concluded case bears testimony to this.
We received instructions from Mrs F to pursue a claim for mesothelioma compensation following the sad death of her husband who passed due to the condition on 11th November 2012.
Difficulty in diagnosis
Mrs F was given no indication from her husband’s medical team that her husband was suffering with an asbestos related condition. This is quite common as asbestos related conditions can be difficult to diagnose on the basis of a sufferer’s symptoms and scans alone. Difficulties in diagnosis can often lead to problems in pursuing the claim for mesothelioma compensation as the sufferers are not given the opportunity to think back to how they were exposed to asbestos dust in the workplace in the past.
Post mortem reveals low asbestos exposure
The case was reported to the coroner who arranged for a post mortem to take place. The results presented some concern in the case as the mineral fibre analysis showed the presence of a small quantity of tremolite asbestos but this was not elevated above levels of asbestos contained in the general environment, indicating that Mr F had suffered low level exposure to asbestos dust. It was stated in the coroner’s office documentation that the results did not provide clear cut evidence of occupational exposure to asbestos but this would need to be interpreted in the light of a detailed occupational history.
As Mr F sadly passed away before we were instructed to deal with the case, we were unable to take a statement from him referring to how he had been exposed to asbestos. We made enquiries with the assistance of his surviving wife to identify potential witnesses who worked alongside the deceased in the workplace.
Invaluable work history given by former colleague
After speaking to a number of people we spoke to an invaluable witness who could remember coming into contact with asbestos when working with Mr F for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at their Priddy’s Hard, Gosport, Ammunitions depot.
The witness explained that he started work for the Defendant as a yard boy during 1974 approximately. After a matter of a few weeks he progressed to work as an assistant laboratory explosive maintenance assistant. It was when working in this role alongside Mr F from around December of 1988 that he recalled being exposed to asbestos dust.
They both worked full-time for the Defendant from 7:30am until 4.15pm Monday to Friday and one of the main tasks he and the deceased were employed to complete during their first few years of working as explosive maintenance assistants involved breaking down 4.5 inch shells within the test area of the Priddy’s Hard depot.
The shells had a VT fuse fitted to the top of the shell which had to be broken down which essentially meant separating this apart. After separating the fuse up from the shell they had to remove the copper wire ring inside the shell to be soaked in xylene. The copper ring rested in between the shell and the fuse. Before doing this there would be a need to remove the protective asbestos insulation from around the copper wire ring which was usually present within the fuse in a ring type shape.
The witness described the asbestos as being of a whitish colouration, which was used for safety purposes in those days as an affective insulating and fireproofed material. This formed part of the VT fuse in most cases. As they separated the lagged copper wiring, puffs of asbestos dust would rise up into the atmosphere which they both inhaled.
He estimated that they would break down up to 100 fuses each day on average which meant that they would be breathing up to 200 puffs of asbestos dust as a result of removing the insulation from the copper wire ring throughout the course of each working day.
The witness helpfully remembered the asbestos dust being visible to the eye. It floated around in the general atmosphere when they worked within the test area on the fuses.
The evidence confirmed that whilst both workers always wore a mask when carrying out this type of work, this was a thin, white, paper type, similar to those that can be found in DIY stores to wear when painting at home. The workers believed that this would be sufficient to protect them from breathing in asbestos dust but it is generally accepted that such masks would be entirely inadequate.
Further evidence was secured from the witness confirming that a green plastic bag was present within the workshop. This would be filled with their contaminated gloves and thin paper masks throughout the course of the working day. This would be taken away at the end of the working day to be disposed of. The bag had the words “hazardous waste” embossed on the side.
The witness explained that it would be common for them to spend a continuous 4 to 5 week period working with the 4.5 inch shells.
At the end of these shifts, their overalls would be covered with some asbestos dust at the end of each working day within the breakdown area and they would take these off once a week to be left on site. They would be hung up in the changing rooms and as the workers changed, some asbestos dust would fall from their work overalls and floated around in the general atmosphere.
In addition to the work in the workshops, the witness explained that the deceased also carried out his work on the 4.5 shells described in the above onboard RFA supply ships between approximately August of 1989 and August of 1991. His work onboard the ships involved the same tasks that they carried out at Priddy’s Hard as the deceased was still working as an explosives maintenance assistant onboard these ships.
The witness was even able to recall the name of their supervisors at the Ministry of Defence at the time which presented further helpful evidence to support the claim for mesothelioma compensation.
The work colleagues later moved to the Ministry of Defence’s Frater – Elson site to work as explosives maintenance assistants during 1991.
Recalling Priddy’s Hard
The witness provided a vivid picture of the conditions at Priddy’s Hard which was a very large, old depot. It had 12 rooms on what they called the common, each being around 20 yards from one another. They were the size of a typical chalet type structure and were situated circularly on a dog race track type area. At the end of this, a number of offices were present.
Next was an area known as Foreshore which overlooked the lake where there were about 9 buildings present, two of which were isolated breakdown room areas. There were 2 old railway station buildings where stores were delivered or taken away to different locations around the depot. Further on there were a number of what they called magazines which were used to store the ammunition completed in the workshops.
All along each of the workshops and other buildings present within the Priddy’s Hard depot there was a vast amount of pipework which ran across each building. The whole depot was steam powered in those days and all of the pipes were lagged with insulation, according to the witness. The witness believed all of the historical lagging, which covered the pipework, contained asbestos.
He stated that between December of 1988 and the August of 1989 it was commonplace for both he and Mr F including other colleagues to be walking past buildings where fitters and maintenance men were in the process of removing the asbestos lagging from the outside pipework in order to attend to necessary repairs. The dust was described as being visible to the eye and floated around on the breeze.
The witness clearly remembered seeing chunks of the asbestos lagging covering the grass verges and pathways which lay in between each building. As they walked through the debris, some further asbestos dust would raise up into the atmosphere which all of them inhaled.
The witness stated that he never recalled being formally warned by the Ministry of Defence about the dangers of being exposed to asbestos dust. Nor was he told to wear anything other than a thin paper mask to do the work. He added that none of the courses he attended throughout his MOD career ever covered the dangers of being exposed to asbestos.
Following receipt of the witness and medical evidence in the case, the Ministry of Defence agreed to pay over £185,000.00 in mesothelioma compensation to Mrs F. This case was a classic example of where no established evidence of asbestos exposure was available on day one of our dealing with the claim. However, by using our specialist knowledge in the field, we were able to obtain a detailed evidential account of how Mr F was exposed to asbestos in the workplace, securing the compensation for Mrs F, even in the face of the post mortem revealing that Mr F had suffered what was considered to be low level occupational exposure to asbestos.