Could Devonport Dockyard be responsible for your cough or breathlessness?

Could Devonport Dockyard be responsible for your cough or breathlessness?

Thousands of local people spent years breathing in asbestos dust at Devonport Dockyard during their regular work refitting ships and submarines. Their employer (the Ministry of Defence) knew about the dangers of asbestos dust as early as the 1950s but chose not to introduce adequate safety precautions until it was, for many workers, much too late.

All trades and occupations working on the ships would be affected: from fitters, electricians and laggers, to the slingers who had to move asbestos contaminated parts and machinery to the workshops and the cleaners who swept up the dust and pieces of lagging strewn all over the decks. Safety precautions came in too little and too late. One of my clients explained that, as late as the mid-1980s, apprentice fitters in their teens had to remove asbestos gaskets stuck to pipes. They were given no training or protection and would spend hours cutting, sanding and chipping away at the asbestos, breathing in the dust that was created.

The scale of asbestos contamination was brought home to me by a former lagger, who worked at the yard in the 1970s and 1980s. He described that, on a typical night shift during the refit of one of the large aircraft carriers, 80 – 90 laggers would strip off vast quantities of asbestos lagging from pipes, boilers, machinery etc. At the end of just one shift, 400 – 500 sacks of asbestos lagging would be ready for disposal.

By the 1970s, some safety precautions had been introduced and the lagging team became registered asbestos workers. However, the masks and clothing provided were not good enough. They were given chest x-rays every year or so, and sometimes told to stop working with asbestos once changes on their lungs were noticed but, by then, the damage had been done.

Fortunately, most dockyard workers never develop asbestos related diseases. For those who do, they often develop either “asbestosis” or “asbestos related diffuse pleural thickening”.

These are just two of the asbestos related diseases and the good news is that it is unlikely that they will shorten life expectancy. It is important to note that not all asbestos related diseases are the same.

In Plymouth and the surrounding area, almost everybody knows somebody who has died from an asbestos related cancer. These cancers are likely to be “mesothelioma” (cancer of the lining of the lung) or “asbestos related lung cancer”. Asbestosis and asbestos related diffuse pleural thickening are not cancers and, in the vast majority of cases, do not progress so as to shorten life.

Because these conditions tend to cause coughing and shortness of breath, there is a very good chance that sufferers will be able to claim significant compensation and state benefits. Local specialist asbestos solicitors at Wolferstans can advise and will act on a conditional fee basis (often known as “No Win, No Fee”).

Compensation almost always exceeds £25,000.00 and can be significantly more. State benefits can also be claimed and awards for these are typically between £35.00 – £90.00 per week.

In our experience, the prospects of more serious asbestos related diseases developing tend to be extremely small (generally only around 5%), but there is still a risk. We can help to safeguard the future of clients and their families by obtaining a report from a doctor and a court order to enable them to re-open the claim in the highly unlikely event something more serious does develop.

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