Asbestos needs to be taken very seriously. It is responsible for thousands of deaths every single year—in 2016 it claimed the lives of 2,595 people suffering from mesothelioma, as well as causing a number of other fatalities in the of asbestosis and additional conditions. In addition to the number of deaths, asbestos is also the cause of long-term debilitating illnesses which can leave victims disabled or struggling to work.

So if your employees have encountered asbestos in your workplace, it is natural that you could be concerned that they have been exposed. Here we will take a look at the truth about workplace exposure to asbestos and to establish whether workers are eligible to make any sort of claim.

Understanding asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that was commonly used in construction around the UK until it was completely banned from use in 1999. Homes and commercial properties built before this date could contain asbestos, as it is a versatile substance that had a variety of uses. Asbestos could be found everywhere from concrete mixes and ceiling coatings to insulation panels and ceiling tiles.

Asbestos was banned when it was established that exposure to the material could result in long-term illnesses including a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. What is particular troublesome about asbestos exposure is that it does not produce symptoms immediately. When asbestos fibres are breathed into the lungs they stay there for life, and symptoms usually only start to appear between 10 and 40 years after exposure.

How exposure could occur

Exposure to asbestos does not usually mean just being in its vicinity. Asbestos that is in good condition is not usually dangerous—it is typically only when the material is disturbed and fibres are released into the air that it becomes a risk to your health.

So you are only in danger if you have come into contact with asbestos that has been disturbed or moved. Typically it was common for people working in an industrial setting to be exposed to asbestos, especially when the dangers were not known. Today it is possible for anyone to be exposed if they have asbestos in their workplace and fibres are allowed to become airborne.

What are the symptoms of asbestos related illnesses?

There are a number of symptoms that are common to people who have been exposed to asbestos, although it should be made clear that these symptoms typically do not present for a number of years after the exposure has taken place. Shortness of breath is the most common symptom, and this is often accompanied by high blood pressure and hyper tension.

You may see other symptoms such as a loss of appetite, swelling in the neck or face, difficulty swallowing or hearing a crackling sound when breathing.

Can a claim be made?

With regards to workplace injury or illness claims, there is a simple rule that applies: if someone suffers an illness or injury and someone else is to blame, it may be possible for them to bring a claim for compensation.

It is a good idea to talk to a solicitor about whether or not a case for compensation can be made. Choose a solicitor with experience in workplace asbestos cases and they will understand the type of things that usually make for a case. It may well be that a worker, or you yourself, are in a position where a claim can be made.

“Over 90% of claimants still use solicitors to represent them. While a claim might be straightforward, there are many complicating factors that could arise and one could benefit dramatically from having legal representation to avoid these pitfalls,” says John McCarthy of McCarthy & Co.

Are claimants entitled to financial assistance?

It should also be noted that even if a claimant is not eligible for compensation—for example, if the employer was not too blame for the exposure to asbestos—one may be able to claim benefits. In the UK, for example, you could be eligible for the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. If you suffer from an asbestos-related condition that was caused while at the workplace, you are likely to be eligible. This may be good news for those people who may not have a realistic prospect of claiming compensation.