I was instructed to act on behalf of a widow, Mrs Scott, in a difficult case. Her husband Robert had died of lung cancer in September 2012. He had been a heavy smoker during his life. Mrs Scott contacted me in July 2013 enquiring as to whether she could bring a claim.
The only detail recorded on her late husband’s death certificate was that he had died from lung cancer. Unfortunately no post-mortem or inquest had taken place, nor had any tissue samples been retained. There was no lifetime statement detailing how her late husband had been exposed to asbestos.
Coppersmith and pipefitter for Whitbread
Mrs Scott was able to provide some information. Her husband had worked as an apprentice coppersmith and pipefitter at Chiswell Street, an old brewery owned by Whitbread. Robert had served his apprenticeship there. It was a very old building and she was aware that her husband was exposed to asbestos but was unable to provide a lot of detail.
However, Mr Scott’s son George had worked with his father in later years and his father had told him quite a lot about the working conditions at that time. He recalled six massive Lancashire boilers that were present in the factory. The brewery also had its own steam turbine. His father was able to describe to him miles and miles of pipes running throughout the factory. There were many copper pipes which transported the beer throughout the factory but, in addition, there were also hot steam pipes that were lagged with asbestos to keep the steam hot. It was a very hot and dusty environment. On occasions the late Mr Scott had to climb inside the large hoppers that were still warm in order to clean them.
Proving asbestos exposure
A big part of his job as a coppersmith and pipefitter was to repair damaged pipes. In order to do this he had to remove the old asbestos lagging which was wrapped around the pipes. The lagging was in a poor state of repair and Robert described only having to touch it before it crumbled and flaked away. The old asbestos lagging fell onto the floor and one of his tasks as an apprentice was to constantly sweep up so he swept up the floor of the factory which included sweeping up all the asbestos lagging.
As an apprentice, Robert was shown how to repair and replace the pipes. The practice then was to use an asbestos gasket sandwiched between the two faces of the flanges. These were bolted together very tightly in order to make a seal. If any replacement or repair work had to be done it was standard practice to remove all the asbestos lagging and then remove all the old pipework. Robert scraped the old asbestos gaskets off the pipes by hand. The gaskets were then replaced with new asbestos gaskets to ensure the seal was good and there were no leakages from the pipes.
In addition, Robert did another task called brazing. Before brazing the pipes, he polished them with a file or wire wool. The asbestos lagging had to be removed before the pipes could be brazed.
Compensation claim settled
With the additional information that Mr Scott’s son was able to provide, an expert engineer prepared a calculation showing that the late Mr Scott had significant exposure to asbestos during his time at the Whitbread brewery in Chiswell Street.
Supportive medical evidence as obtained and full details of the claim were presented. The insurers of Whitbread made an offer of £80,000 which was accepted by his widow.