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Secondary asbestos exposure and the fight for justice

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The use of asbestos was so widespread between the 1930s and the 1980s that workers in many industries were at risk of suffering severe ill health. Secondary asbestos exposure was also a significant threat for their wives and families.

With little in the way of protective equipment or clothing, asbestos fibres and dust were carried home on overalls and work wear only to settle in the home environment where they could be inhaled by the worker’s family.

Secondary asbestos exposure a deadly threat

Secondary exposure to asbestos was a common occurrence if a worker’s wife or other family member cleaned asbestos-contaminated overalls, shaking them to remove the dust prior to washing, possibly several times a week.

As a result, the whole family was at huge risk of developing asbestos-related diseases in later life. There was also a general tendency for employers to cover up or ignore these dangers, and with no asbestos awareness training available at the time, health and safety were severely jeopardised.

Family awarded compensation in secondary asbestos exposure case

Hailed as a landmark ruling for an asbestos case, the family of Adrienne Sweeney has recently been awarded £250,000 in compensation following the death of their mother from mesothelioma.

Mrs Sweeney had been indirectly exposed to asbestos when she shook dust from her husband’s work overalls during the 1960s. He had worked as a boilermaker, and although the level of his own exposure was unclear, the court determined his employers were either aware or should have been aware that his contaminated work clothes would be cleaned at home.

Children also at risk of secondary exposure to asbestos

Family members in general were in danger of breathing in microscopic asbestos fibres which could easily settle unnoticed on floors and work surfaces around the home. In fact, one such tragic case involved the death of a 22-year-old man from mesothelioma in 2011.

The young man’s father had worked in construction and carried asbestos home on his work wear following refurbishment of an estate of council houses. Being unaware of the dangers of asbestos, he cradled his young son whilst still wearing his work clothes.

This happened regularly over a two-year period and resulted in his son being diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos.

Compensation for indirect asbestos victims

An increasing number of cases are coming to light where secondary asbestos exposure has taken place, with families seeking justice through the courts. Employers did have a duty of care to their employees and it has been argued that this duty should also extend to their family given the ease with which second-hand transfer of asbestos takes place.

If you would like more information on asbestos, and how to deal with it, please contact one of our expert consultants. Acorn Analytical Services offers a range of asbestos services including management surveys and demolition surveys, and can provide the professional asbestos guidance you need.

Neil Munro

I work in a dual role at Acorn Analytical Services focused primarily on growing and leading the business from our Northampton office base. My focus is on overseeing all sales, marketing and financial activities from Northampton. I assist clients with high-level asbestos management strategies and training. Together with Ian Stone I host our weekly podcast – Asbestos Knowledge Empire and I'm Co-author of Asbestos The Dark Arts and Fear and Loathing of Health and Safety.

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