Asbestos: A deadly dust with a growing legacy in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire
DOZENS of people every year are receiving the devastating news that they have contracted a fatal disease brought on by asbestos dust which was common in many workplaces.
But a union hopes claiming compensation will be made easier for victims and their families by a new database recording the details of workers, companies and their insurers involved in cases of asbestos exposure in the past.
Unite has been working with Thompsons Solicitors on the archive.
Thompsons, based in Hanley, says it successfully pursues about 70 claims for compensation every year against former employers of ex-miners, potters and railway workers.
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Many clients have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer affecting the lungs and sometimes the abdomen.
Ken Woolley, of Unite retired members branch, whose former members worked at British Rail and Rolls-Royce in Crewe, said: "Mesothelioma is the greatest single cause of work-related death in the UK and a damning indictment of previous corporate negligence.
"The death toll and personal tragedy in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire and Cheshire has been devastating. It has affected countless victims and their families.
"It is a depressing reality that the death toll is not going to abate before many lives have been lost. It is an industrial disease caused by failure on the part of employers to adequately protect their workers.
"There will also be many wives and children who have contracted the disease from inhaling dust from contaminated work clothes."
The latest information from the Health and Safety Executive shows the number of mesothelioma deaths in the country has increased from 153 in 1968 to 2,321 in 2009. More than 80 per cent of deaths were among men.
Unite regional officer Neil Salter said it set up the database as it is often difficult to trace a response from employers and their insurers. It details the places and circumstances of the exposure.
"It is critical that we have available a computerised database which has recorded asbestos exposure in the past so this information can help in the future with the legal fight for justice," said Mr Salter. "This includes details of all current and former members of T&G, Amicus and AEEU who have been exposed to asbestos."
Thompsons is appealing for information on behalf of two mesothelioma victims pursuing a possible claim against their ex-employers.
Janet Finney, branch manager of Thompsons' Hanley office, said one victim worked for Chatterley Whitfield as an electrician for the National Coal Board, the other in the plate shop of Empire Porcelain in Shelton.
"We need to build up an accurate and detailed account of the victims' working environment," she said.
"We would like to speak to anyone who remembers working at Chatterley Whitfield pit or Empire Porcelain."
Thompsons says cases of mesothelioma have increased dramatically over the past few years, due to the length of time it can take for symptoms to show.
Mrs Finney said: "People have three years to make a claim for compensation from the point of diagnosis. Most of these men and women worked in industry and would be trade union members. Their trade union will support them at no cost.
"In most cases we claim compensation from the insurers for an employer or past employer. Even if an employer no longer exists, it may be possible to pursue a claim by tracing a defunct employer's insurer.
"In cases where we are unable to locate the employer's insurers, we may still be able to claim a lump sum from the Government." The onset of asbestos-related disease can occur 40 or 50 years after exposure, which has meant the number of deaths has gone up every year.
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt said: "It's a legacy of our industrial heritage which has affected health and life expectancy in our area. It is a really cruel and unpleasant killer."
Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos and wishes to register their details on the database – or who can provide information about working conditions at Chatterley Whitfield or Empire Porcelain – is asked to call Stephanie Whitehouse on 01782 406263.