Asbestos is a fibrous mineral. It occurs naturally in rock in various parts of the world. Its fire resistant properties have been known since ancient times, , but it wasn't until the industrial age that the practical uses led to soaring usage. There are three principal types which have been exploited commercially. These are:
- Crocidolite, known as 'blue asbestos'
- Amosite, known as 'brown asbestos'
- Chrysotile, known as 'white asbestos'
The dangers of asbestos are now well known, and there are strict regulations in place to protect workers who come into contact with asbestos materials.
Unfortunately, for years workers used asbestos without full knowledge of the risks and even once the danger was known, some employers did little to protect their employees.
The history of this dangerous material
In the 19th century it was found that the fibrous quality of the rock enabled it to be broken down, spun into thread and then woven into cloth.
It could also be mixed with other materials to make a plaster or compressed into boards. In these forms, it could be used to delay the spread of fire, to keep heat in or to protect from heat. It could also act as an insulator against noise.
All these advantages meant that, by the end of the 19th century, asbestos was big business. The major asbestos companies in the UK competed to find ever more uses for the material.
Factories opened up and down the country to manufacture different products. Large quantities of raw asbestos were imported through the major ports in London, Liverpool and Glasgow.
Over the course of the early twentieth century, the mining and manufacturing of asbestos would rapidly accelerate. By 1910, worldwide production of the deadly material exceeded 109,000 metric tons (more than three times the amount produced just a decade earlier).
Specialist contracting firms were established to apply insulation in ships, factories, engineering works, power stations and foundries. Asbestos products also became more widely used in the construction industry.
As the health risks associated with asbestos became more clearly understood, by the 1950's and 1960's alternative materials began to come into use. Crocidolite, the blue asbestos was considered to be the most dangerous form of the mineral.
Many tonnes of asbestos were imported into the UK throughout the twentieth century, even after the risks began to be known. The amount being imported peaked in 1964, when 187,000 tons made it over to the UK in one year.
Importation of the deadly material did not slow until the late 70s after the first restrictions were enforced (however, Amosite, or brown asbestos, and Chrysotile, or white asbestos, continued to be imported). The final year asbestos was imported into the UK was 1998, after which all types were banned. Unfortunately, this did not come soon enough for many people; asbestos had already sown the seeds of future illness in a vast number of workers and their families.
To this day, a huge quantity remains in buildings as roof or wall cladding, as fire protection or sound insulation, in floor coverings and pipe lagging.
Now that the full danger of asbestos is known, strict regulations are in place to help protect those coming into contact with it, ensuring they keep themselves safe as well as any co-workers, members of the public or family members who may be at risk of secondary exposure.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, the use or reuse of asbestos materials is banned.
Any operations involving work on asbestos or the removal of asbestos is prohibited other than under strictly controlled or licensed conditions.
The regulations also provide rules for the management of non-domestic premises which contain asbestos to ensure that asbestos materials are identified, recorded and labelled.
However, because conditions caused by asbestos – such as Mesothelioma – can take a long time to develop after the initial exposure to the fibres, some workers are only now dealing with the consequences of unsafe work they carried out many decades ago.
Make a claim with Thompsons Solicitors
Being diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition is sure to be a very difficult time for you and your family. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve.
If you or a loved one have been affected by exposure to asbestos you might be thinking about making a claim for compensation. To find out if you have a valid claim just give us a call on 0800 0891 331 and speak to our specialist asbestos lawyers.