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Britain has a proud history of shipbuilding. However, decades after much of the industry closed down, many workers exposed to asbestos in shipyards and dockyards are facing tragic health consequences. These come in the form of asbestos diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening, and cancers such as mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.
Asbestos was once known as the ‘magic mineral’ for its many uses. Its waterproof, insulating, fireproof and non-corrosive properties made it seemingly ideal for shipbuilding. It was used all over ships and submarines in boiler rooms and engine rooms and on components such as pipes, gaskets, turbines and pumps.
Asbestos was used on civil and commercial vessels such as cruise ships, but exposure to asbestos in the Royal Navy was also common. The soundproofing capabilities of asbestos were especially valuable onboard submarines, as well as on warships and aircraft carriers.
A wide range of shipyard and dockyard workers worked with or near asbestos, including sailors and submariners but also engineers, electricians, plumbers, laggers, fitters and apprentices.
Despite its past popularity, asbestos can be incredibly dangerous. The dust created when asbestos is disturbed or damaged can eventually cause scarring to the inside of the body, especially the lungs, when breathed in.
Decades later serious medical conditions can develop such as asbestosis or pleural thickening (the thickening of the lung lining). Asbestos can also cause cancers, such as asbestos-related lung cancer or mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs or stomach and typically has a short life expectancy.
Many former shipyard workers who develop asbestos diseases can name the vessels they worked on and can explain how they were exposed to asbestos.
Expert asbestos disease solicitor Andrew Stinchcombe from Novum Law’s Bristol team secured compensation for Steve*, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos at the Devonport Royal Dockyard in the 1960s and 70s.
Steve worked at Devonport in Plymouth for his whole career. He entered the dockyard in the late 1950s as an apprentice shipwright immediately after leaving school, spending the first two years in a training centre before starting to work onboard ships.
Once Steve finished his apprenticeship, he worked as a shipwright from the early 1960s onwards. This included working onboard ships as they sailed, and in particular he recalled working on the HMS Eagle, Ark Royal, Tiger, Lion, Bulwark, Plymouth and Cleopatra.
During his career, Steve would often have to go into the boiler rooms and engine rooms of ships. These rooms contained a large amount of asbestos, and Steve was frequently exposed to dangerous asbestos dust.
He often worked next to laggers who would be insulating asbestos pipes and recalled that there would be asbestos all over the floor, which would be kicked about. Sometimes he had to work with asbestos products directly, cutting the asbestos on the pipes himself.
Exposure to asbestos dust was particularly heavy in dockyards and shipyards in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the period when asbestos use was at its height, particularly in shipbuilding and ship maintenance. It was used all over ships and submarines for insulation and waterproofing by a wide variety of workers. These included shipwrights like Steve and laggers, but also electricians, engineers, welders and plumbers. This led to widespread exposure amongst potentially every worker nearby. It was also used in other industries, such as in manufacturing, construction and the railways.
After undergoing a lung biopsy and various scans at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, Steve was diagnosed as suffering from asbestos-related mesothelioma.
Steve then got in touch with Novum Law’s specialist mesothelioma lawyers to pursue a claim for compensation.
Expert solicitor Andrew Stinchcombe took up his case, and talked to Steve about his work onboard ships and at the dockyard which led to his asbestos exposure. Establishing that Steve had been exposed as a result of the negligence of his employer, the Ministry of Defence, Novum Law then pursued the MoD for compensation. They were able to achieve a settlement of a substantial six figure sum within a very short period of time. Despite the poor prognosis of his condition, this compensation enabled Steve to provide some security for his family.
Andrew Stinchcombe is a specialist asbestos disease solicitor in Novum Law’s team. He says:
“Asbestos on ships was common throughout the 20th century, but only decades later are its tragic consequences coming to light. Myself and my colleagues at Novum Law have many years’ experience of handling asbestos in shipbuilding compensation claims and dockyard compensation claims and want anyone who has been affected by asbestos disease as a result of working in places like Devonport to know that help is available.
“We will support you and your family to claim the compensation you deserve, so that like Steve you can achieve some peace of mind that your loved ones are secure even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos disease, it’s important you speak to a specialist asbestos disease solicitor as soon as possible. Novum Law’s expert team will advise you on the best way to proceed with your claim and will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive maximum asbestos disease compensation on a ‘No Win No Fee‘ basis.
*Name changed to protect client privacy
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