Asbestos Justice recently settled a claim for a client who sadly lost her husband to asbestos related mesothelioma on 13th March 2013.
Mr. J served his apprenticeship as a painter and decorator with his local council which eventually came to be known as Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council. The apprenticeship lasted a full 5 years. He worked on a full-time basis for the council and did come into contact with asbestos during the course of his work.
Asbestos exposure at work
Part of his work involved having to prepare surfaces before painting them, some of which contained asbestos within them for fireproofing purposes. These included prefab panels, ceiling tiles and guttering. Mr. J had regular cause to use sand paper to sand the surfaces down before painting them. This resulted in much asbestos dust being released into the atmosphere which he could not help but inhale.
During the early part of his working life he also had regular cause to mix raw asbestos powder with water in a bucket to be applied as a form of fireproofed coating to ceilings in the main or which was mixed directly with floor paint which he would then use for coating floors and other surfaces.
As he poured the raw asbestos powder into the bucket, a vast amount of asbestos dust would be released into the atmosphere which he inhaled.He would use a stick to mix the coating into a paste like mixture which he would then spread onto the ceilings of the council houses and buildings he worked on. It was used in this way to create a nice finish on the ceilings and to fireproof the ceilings.
It was common for him to use asbestos during his apprenticeship as he was given the dirty jobs to do as a youngster. He would be covered from head to toe in asbestos dust by the end of the working day.
During the course of his apprenticeship with the council, Mr. J worked mainly on post Second World War council houses and asbestos manufactured prefabricated houses. Not only did he experience exposure directly as a result of the work he carried out he would also be present next to others on occasion who were in the process of cutting up asbestos insulation boards and panels.
They would sometimes be working in the same areas as Mr. J as he attended to his preparation and painting duties. As the other workers which included joiners and labourers cut through the boards and panels, some asbestos dust would be released into the atmosphere which he and his colleagues inhaled when nearby. He would also be required to brush down all surfaces prior to painting which resulted in him coming into close contact with asbestos dust.
Workers around Mr. J used hand saws in those days to do the sawing and the asbestos dust and debris would cover the floor which Mr. J and his colleagues would walk through throughout the course of the working day which resulted in him breathing in the harmful fibers once more.
Mr. J also regularly sanded down asbestos guttering, fascias and soffits before painting this. When sanding the guttering, some asbestos dust would be released into the atmosphere which he inhaled.
Further exposure to asbestos – 1988/89 to 1994/95
Mr. J was not only exposed to asbestos during the early part of his working life, he also suffered exposure to asbestos during the latter phases of his career and this case highlights how workers could still come into contact with asbestos to this day when encountering old buildings and structures which have a legacy of asbestos within their own construction.
During this period of time Mr. J worked for Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council as a full-time painter and decorator and this work brought him into regular contact with asbestos materials.
Whilst Mr. J was employed in the Highways department, it was common for his work to crossover with work in the Building Section. The two painting roles were essentially inter-related and as a result Mr. J was asked on numerous occasions to cover painting jobs in the Building Section when there was a shortage of staff due to sickness or when larger contracts had to be completed.
Invaluable family witness appeal
Helpful evidence as provided by Mr. J’s son who could recall his father working on tall ships when they visited the river Mersey. He worked for many weeks on the old dock buildings in Wallasey sanding and painting the huge warehouse doors and panels.
Mr. J informed his son of the amount of asbestos panels that had been used to repair the old doors and he used to be covered in dust every evening. This could be seen in his hair, eyebrows and nostrils. He advised that it was from the asbestos sheeting. He would have to sand down these huge surface areas down which resulted in the asbestos dust covering him from head to toe. He inhaled the asbestos dust on a daily basis on this contract.
On many occasions, during conversations around the dinner table, he would inform his family of where he had been sent to work that day as resource cover. Most of these work places involved the preparation and painting of old schools or buildings. He often mentioned the word asbestos. Many of the schools and buildings he worked on have now been demolished and new modern buildings stand in their place.
Mr. J also had cause to work on houses which were council owned prefab houses, which had asbestos present within their construction. Mr. J would have to rub down the asbestos materials before they could be painted. He would use sanding paper to do this and the whole process was time consuming. As a result of doing this work he regularly breathed in harmful amounts of asbestos dust which came from the asbestos panels.
During the early part of this second period with the council he also had regular cause to scrape old Artex off walls and ceilings. As he scraped or prepared these textured surfaces, a vast amount of asbestos dust would be released into the atmosphere which he inhaled. On some occasions he would be covered from head to toe in asbestos dust by the end of the working day when completing the Artexing preparation and painting work.
Mr. J’s son can remember his father working at the following locations for the council when he had cause to sand down the asbestos made surfaces himself :-
- Schools : Liscard primary school, Leasowe school, Manor Lane School, St Georges School, Caldy Old School, Schools in West Kirkby, Upton, Moreton and Hoylake
- Colleges and Housing Estates – Withens Lane College, Leasowe Estate,
- Other Buildings – Wallasey Dock Warehouse Buildings, Wallasey Council Offices, Wallasey and Birkenhead Town Halls.
Mr. J’s son did not recall his father ever being supplied with adequate respiratory protection by the council nor was he ever made aware of the dangers of being exposed to asbestos.
This was one of the first cases to encounter problems caused by HMRC’s change of policy in refusing to disclose deceased persons’ work histories without sight of a court order.
It is hoped that this case will place others on notice of the dangers of working with asbestos materials in the painting and decorating industry where workers may encounter a legacy of asbestos materials on older sites.
White asbestos was not banned in the UK until 1999 and therefore in theory, painters and decorators and other workers may be subjected to asbestos exposure on buildings built prior to the year 2000.
At Asbestos Justice, we prepared the relevant application to the court which resulted in the work history being disclosed by HMRC. This acted as evidence of Mr. J’s employment with the council during the latter period and after some debate, the council eventually agreed to settle the claim for the widow’s benefit for a sum of £145,000.00.
If you, a family member or colleague are concerned over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.
Main image credit: “Benkid77 Wallasey Town Hall 1 090809” by Rept0n1x – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons