Boyes Turner solicitors were recently instructed by a mesothelioma victim who had been exposed to asbestos in the workplace throughout his working life as a plumber. Our client provided us with a detailed history of his working history and his exposure to asbestos is one which continued right up until 2006. Our client’s continuing asbestos exposure occurred despite the fact that asbestos can no longer be installed as a construction material and despite the fact that all employers now know that asbestos is a hazardous material known to cause lung diseases.So how did our client’s asbestos exposure continue for so long?Our client’s instructions are that he would regularly go in to old premises that were constructed or modified prior to the ban on asbestos in the 1980’s to carry our repairs or modifications to old installations comprising of asbestos materials. A typical example would be stripping back old asbestos lagging from a pipe so the pipe could be exposed and worked upon. The stripping back of this lagging caused our client to be exposed to toxic asbestos fibres which has led to his suffering of mesothelioma, an asbestos induced lung cancer.Did our client know that the asbestos in the workplace was dangerous?Our client has worked with asbestos since the 1950’s.Up until the 1980’s our client was not aware that asbestos was harmful. Our client had been told to work on asbestos numerous times up until the 1980’s and simply assumed the material was safe to work with as his employers had never informed him otherwise.From the 1980’s onwards our client was aware that asbestos was dangerous, but was of the opinion that he had no choice but to carry out the work laid down by his employer or he could risk losing his job.Our advice to other tradesmen with suspected asbestos in the workplaceOur advice to tradesmen expected to work with asbestos is quite simple – Don’t!As per the above asbestos is a harmful material and is known to cause a variety of respiratory and peritoneal diseases such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer, the latter two of which are fatal conditions.To contract an asbestos related disease can take as little as a few inhalations of asbestos fibres and therefore there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.What should you do if you come across asbestos in the work place?Firstly, it is worth noting a few asbestos related facts:Asbestos is responsible for the deaths of around 20 people in the UK each week.The UK has the highest annual asbestos related death toll in the world.More people die annually from asbestos related illnesses than road traffic accidents.In short, asbestos is a health concern that needs to be taken seriously by all tradesmen.Our advice in view of these terrifying facts is that if you come across asbestos in the work place, stop work immediately.A famous slogan endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) for people who come across suspected asbestos is to, “take 5 and stay alive”.The idea of this slogan is simply to get tradesmen not to carry on working if they believe asbestos has been uncovered, but to stop and think about whether it is safe to carry on.If you are unsure ask for a second opinion. Other tradesmen may be able to tell you immediately if the material you are working on is asbestos.If you or your colleagues are unsure then ask your employer to have the matter investigated by a specialist asbestos contractor. If a specialist informs you the material is not asbestos then of course you can carry on working. If the specialist informs you that the material is in fact asbestos then your employer can arrange for the specialist to either completely remove the asbestos for you or encapsulate it so as to make it safe.Our advice is not to worry about wasting time on a job, not to worry about causing your employer unnecessary expense and not to worry about looking foolish if the material turns out not to be asbestos. It is better to be safe than sorry and it is definitely better to be certain than risk your life or the lives of others around you.If your employer refuses to have an asbestos specialist examine the suspected asbestos then simply refuse to carry on with the job. It would also be advisable to contact the health and safety executive asking for an investigation to be carried out.Do not simply carry on working with asbestos as you fear losing your job, just like our client did.Employers health and safety dutiesAn employer or main site contractor does have a duty to carry out pre-site visits prior to any job starting, to compile risk assessments and if necessary put in control measures to protect employees and contractors. This duty includes examining suspected asbestos and having it removed or encapsulated prior to your arrival on site. There are however times when asbestos will not be uncovered until a job has commenced, as an example when a wall is demolished revealing suspected asbestos lagged pipes. If this occurs we would advise you to “take 5 and stay alive”.We can advise you that your employers or the main site contractors duty of care with regard health and safety is continuing, the duty does not stop after the initial site visits and risk assessments have been carried out. Due to this ongoing duty of care your employer or the main site contractor must investigate any suspected asbestos material bought to its attention.Your employer or the main site contractor cannot discriminate against you or terminate your employment (as our client feared) simply because you have reasonably held health and safety concerns.What should I do if I have already been exposed to asbestos?Some people are of the opinion that if they have already been exposed to asbestos then the damage is already done and there is no need to be so cautious. This is not correct.Whilst some asbestos related disease take just a few breaths to contract, others take years of asbestos exposure for the disease to be suffered.If you have been exposed to asbestos in the past, just like our client in this report, do not feel you may as well continue working with the material. Our advice is to simply try and limit any future asbestos exposure in an attempt to minimise any risk of suffering from an asbestos related disease.