Asbestos Compensation Specialists Bonnar Accident Law
Asbestos related industrial disease - the facts
Exposure to asbestos at work continues to be a major cause of worker deaths and serious, long-term debilitating illness.
Claiming compensation for an industrial disease caused by exposure to asbestos
Making a compensation claim for an asbestos related disease can be a very distressing process for the claimant and their family, given the serious implications of the medical diagnosis which forms the basis of the claim.
Bonnar Accident Law solicitors understand the stresses that a family can experience during the course of an asbestos claim and we therefore take great care to ensure that the case is dealt with promptly and sympathetically. We take away the burden of dealing with the insurance company and make every effort to keep the direct involvement of the claimant and family to a minimum.
What asbestos does to workers’ health
There are four main diseases associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres.
•Mesothelioma - a form of cancer mainly affecting the lining of the lungs
•Asbestos related lung cancer
•Asbestosis - a non-malignant scarring of the lung tissue
•Non malignant pleural disease (diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques)
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that principally affects the pleura (the external lining of the lung) and the peritoneum (the lining of the lower digestive tract).
Many cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed at an advanced stage as symptoms are non specific and appear late in the development of the disease. It is almost always fatal with most of those affected usually dying within twelve months of diagnosis.
Mesothelioma has a strong association with exposure to asbestos and current estimates suggest that around 85% of all male mesotheliomas are attributable to occupational exposures. Most deaths occurring now are a consequence of the long latency period (i.e. the time between initial exposure to asbestos and the manifestation of the disease) which is typically between 30 and 40 years.
Most mesothelioma deaths occurring now are due to past occupational exposures to asbestos when it was widely used in the building industry.
The latest HSE information shows:
•The number of mesothelioma deaths increased to 2,535 in 2012 from 2,311 in 2011.
•In 2012 there were 2 126 male deaths and 409 female deaths.
•The number of new cases of mesothelioma assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit has increased from 2,125 in 2012 to 2,145 new cases in 2013 (IIDB).
•Men who worked in the building industry when asbestos was used extensively are now among those most at risk of mesothelioma.
Occupational risks of contracting mesothelioma
Analysis shows that a number of occupations associated with the construction industry – such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians – are recorded much more frequently than expected on death certificates of men now dying from mesothelioma. This highlights the effect of past occupational asbestos exposures due to the use of asbestos containing materials in the construction industry.
A recent study of mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain, published in The Journal of Cancer, confirms the high burden of disease among former building workers. However, it also shows that occupational analyses of national mesothelioma deaths – which are based on only the last occupation of the deceased as recorded on death certificates – will tend to underestimate the proportion of male mesothelioma deaths that are attributable to asbestos exposures in the construction industry.
The study suggests that about 46% of currently occurring mesotheliomas among men born in the 1940s would be attributed to such exposures, with 17% attributed to carpentry work alone. A key factor in causing the higher risks now seen in these former workers appears to be the extensive use of insulation board containing brown asbestos (amosite) within buildings for fire protection purposes.
Asbestos related lung cancer
The overall scale of asbestos related lung cancer deaths has to be estimated rather than counted. This is because it is difficult to tell these cancers apart from those due to other causes such as smoking.
Research suggests there are probably about as many asbestos-related lung cancer deaths each year as there are mesothelioma deaths.
This implies there are currently in excess of 2 000 deaths each year in Great Britain due to asbestos-related lung cancer.
The ratio of lung cancers to mesotheliomas is expected to fall over time suggesting less than one asbestos related lung cancer per mesothelioma in the future.
There were 285 cases assessed for disablement benefit in 2013. (IIDB).
There were 100 cases of occupational lung cancer reported by chest physicians in 2013. (THOR).
One reason that figures based on IIDB and THOR are substantially lower than the estimated number of asbestos related lung cancers is the difficulty in attributing individual cases to asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis is a form of pneumoconiosis defined as lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. The disease is characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. It is an irreversible condition with no cure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent cough, fatigue, laboured and rapid breathing and chest pain. These can seriously affect normal daily activity and lead to various complications which can be fatal.
It is generally recognised that heavy asbestos exposures are required in order to produce clinically significant asbestosis within the lifetime of an individual. Current trends therefore still largely reflect the results of heavy exposures in the past.
Overall scale of the disease including trends
The Health and Safety Executive maintains a register of all deaths where death certificates mention asbestosis. These deaths include those where the underlying cause is specifically identified as asbestosis, but also those with other underlying causes but where asbestosis was nevertheless mentioned in the textual description of the cause of death. (The underlying cause of death is defined as the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death.)
Thus the total number of deaths on the asbestosis register gives an indication of the number of individuals who were suffering from asbestosis when they died. In 2012 there were 493 deaths where the death certificate mentioned asbestosis and of these 216 had asbestos recorded as the underlying cause of death.
The best indication of the number of deaths where asbestosis contributed as a cause is to exclude death certificates mentioning both asbestosis and mesothelioma. There were 464 such deaths in 2012 compared with 109 in 1978.
The word "asbestosis" is often mentioned on death certificates along with other asbestos-related diseases - for example mesothelioma and/or lung cancer. On some death certificates the wording of the cause of death description suggests that the word asbestosis is sometimes used incorrectly as a general term for any asbestos-related disease - i.e., to indicate the role of asbestos in causing mesothelioma and/or lung cancer - rather than the presence of asbestos-induced lung fibrosis per se. This is particularly the case for mesothelioma, where the phrase "industrial disease of asbestosis" is sometimes used when mesothelioma is given as a cause of death.
Interpretation of these figures is further complicated by the fact that cases of asbestosis may sometimes not be recorded as such because they may be mistaken for other types of lung fibrosis or may go undiagnosed.
Non malignant pleural disease (diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques)
Non-malignant pleural disease is a non cancerous condition affecting the outer lining of the lung (the pleura). It includes two disabling forms of disease, diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques. A substantial number of cases continue to occur each year, mainly due to workplace asbestos exposures many years ago.
The latest information shows:
There were 430 new cases of pleural thickening assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit in 2013 (IIDB).
The annual number has been fairly constant over the last 10 years with between 400 and 500 new cases per year (IIDB).
An estimated 673 new cases of non-malignant pleural disease mainly caused by asbestos were reported by chest physicians in 2013.
Pleural plaques are usually symptomless and are often identified when individuals have chest x-rays for other conditions.
For these reasons, there are likely to be substantially more individuals in the population with pleural plaques than those identified by chest physicians