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The dangers of working with Asbestos

From the 1950s until the mid 1980s asbestos was widely used as a building material for multiple purposes in the UK. However, by the mid 1980’s the risks of working with and using asbestos were identified and its use within Europe and UK has since been banned.  Intact, asbestos materials are technically not dangerous; the real problem arises when asbestos is damaged causing asbestos fibres to become airborne and those fibres can then subsequently be inhaled by anyone nearby.

When these fibres are inhaled through the lung tissue they trigger an inflammatory reaction which can ultimately develop into a serious disease.  There are four main diseases caused by asbestos being, mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening. It is a complex medical area as the effects of asbestos related illnesses don’t tend to appear for many years, often between 25 and 40 years after exposure. The main symptom is shortness of breath and commonly also tiredness, a cough, chest tightness and chest pain. The diagnosis of such an illness will often be given following a chest x-ray and lung function tests where the sufferer has a history of asbestos exposure and persistent symptoms as described. Although there is no cure for asbestos related illnesses, medication and treatment can be given to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. It is of course important to prevent the symptoms becoming worse by avoiding further exposure to asbestos.  

Since it has been recognised as a potentially hazardous substance, it is important that it is dealt with properly. Most local authorities have specific departments and teams who are trained to identify, test and safely remove asbestos in addition to independent trained professionals. People working with it generally wear protective clothing, including respirator masks and measures can also be taken to lower dust levels by the use of extraction fans, regular vacuuming or spraying to keep surfaces wet. It is thought that it is unlikely to be in any homes built since the 1990’s but it may still be present in any which pre-date that time and so it is important that the proper surveys are carried out on older properties before any works are undertaken which could cause it to be broken up and the fibres inhaled.  

Sadly, there are still many people who worked with asbestos in the UK before the dangers were known. Anyone who is concerned that they may have been exposed to asbestos should see their GP and report this. The GP should make a record of it (including dates and duration of any exposure) and should provide regular check-ups to see if there are any signs of disease developing from the exposure and they can when necessary refer on to an appropriate specialist. If the exposure occurred at work, it is possible to claim for compensation even when the exposure was many years prior to diagnosis with a related illness.  

Exposure to asbestos has undoubtedly caused devastation not only to those who suffer from a related illness but also to their family and friends. It causes life changing illnesses which sadly often end with the sufferer losing their life.  

Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can advise anyone who has been diagnosed with an asbestos related illness. Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit

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