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History of Asbestos


Dr Montague Murray gives evidence to the Departmental Committee on Industrial Diseases of the death of a man from an asbestos related condition.


The first reported medical case of an asbestos related death due to asbestosis. Nellie Kershaw from Rochdale had worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos as a rover spinner.


The Government Factory Inspectors Report in 1928 noted cases involving asbestos exposure causing pulmonary fibrosis (asbestosis).


Government Factory Inspector's report by Dr Merewether and Mr Price presented to Parliament in March 1930 “Occurrence of Pulmonary Fibrosis & Other Pulmonary Affections in Asbestos Workers” They concluded there was a definite occupational risk in the asbestos industry in the form of a type of fibrosis of the lungs (asbestosis).


The Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931 come in to force on 1st March 1932. These regulations sought to control the amount of asbestos dust in factories.


The Factories Act 1937 came into force


The Factory Inspectors Annual Report of 1938 published in July 1939 commented “There can be no doubt that dust, if inhaled, is physiologically undesirable. Moreover dust that is thought today to be harmless may, following research, be viewed in another light to-morrow. It is not many years ago when the dust of asbestos was regarded as innocuous while to-day it is recognised as highly dangerous.”


Nora Dockerty’s family were the first in the UK to receive compensation for her death from an asbestos related disease. Nora had worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 ½ years. (Image from


Eminent Scientist Richard Doll's report, "Mortality from Lung Cancer in Asbestos Workers" published and showed a link between asbestos dust and cancer. “Lung cancer was a specific hazard of certain asbestos workers”


The Factories Act 1959 passed.


The Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing Regulations 1960 came into force on 31st March 1961. These regulations sort to control the use of asbestos in the shipbuilding industry.


Pathologist Chris Wagner's report “Diffuse mesothelioma and asbestos exposure in the North Western Cape Province” showed a clear link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer.


The Factories Act 1961 came in to force on 1st April 1962


Turner & Newall solicitors warned the directors: "We have, over the years, been able to talk our way out of claims but we have always recognised that at some stage solicitors of experience . . . would, with the advance in medical knowledge and the development of the law . . . recognise there is no real defence to these claims and take us to trial."


Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson’s report established a link between mesothelioma and domestic exposure to asbestos. “There seems to be little doubt that the risk of mesothelioma may arise from both occupational and domestic exposure to asbestos.”


31 October 1965 – Front page Sunday Times Newspaper article reported a link between low level asbestos exposure such as from clothing and mesothelioma. “Scientists track down killer dust disease”


The Asbestos Regulations 1969 came into force on the 14th May 1970. These regulations imposed much stricter rules than those under the 1931 Regulations and applied to significantly more work with asbestos. At the same time a voluntary ban was introduced on the import of blue asbestos (Crocidolite) to the UK.


28th June 1971 – Groundbreaking World in Action Documentary – The Dust at Acre Mill - This was a TV documentary on Cape’s Asbestos Factory in Hebden Bridge and its dangerous use of asbestos.


The Health & Safety at Work Act introduced.


A voluntary ban was introduced on the import of brown (Amosite) asbestos to the U.K.


Yorkshire TV prime time documentary “Alice – A Fight For Life” was shown on 20th July 1982 and ignited public and political debate around asbestos use in the UK. Alice Jefferson suffered from mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos at work at Cape’s Asbestos Mill, Acre Mill.


The Asbestos (Licencing) Regulations introduced.


The Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985 were introduced and banned the import of blue and brown asbestos in to the UK


The Control of Asbestos At Work Regulations introduced giving greater protection to employees at work


Groundbreaking cases of Margereson and Hancock v JW Roberts Limited were heard. The Judge held that since 1933 JW Roberts should have known children playing near their asbestos factory in Armley, Leeds where asbestos was manufactured would be exposed to the risk of developing asbestos related diseases.


Asbestos (Prohibition) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 come into force and white (Chrysotile) asbestos banned in the UK.


Federal Mogul (U.K) Group (previously the T & N Group) went in to administration on the 1st October 2001 and in October 2006 The T & N Asbestos Trustee Company Limited commenced the payment of claims made against two trusts which have been established to pay damages to those exposed to asbestos by T & N’s companies.


The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 come into force.


Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Limited, The House of Lords decided that a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages from any person who had exposed them to asbestos when they could show that the exposure to asbestos had materially increased the risk of them developing mesothelioma as science could not prove when a person had been exposed to asbestos in more than one place, which exposure had caused the mesothelioma


Maguire v Harland and Wolff. The Court of Appeal decided a shipbuilding company could not have known that a wife washing her husband’s overalls which were covered in asbestos dust in the period 1960 to 1965 would be at risk of developing an asbestos related condition.


s.3 of The Compensation Act 2006 reverse Barker v Corus (UK) Plc. A mesothelioma sufferer is entitled to their damages in full from any person who negligently exposed them to asbestos.


Barker v Corus (U.K) Plc. The House of Lord’s decided following Fairchild that whilst a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages for mesothelioma, where the sufferer had been exposed to asbestos with more than one person, each person only had to pay their share and not 100 % of the damages. This meant if a mesothelioma sufferer could not trace all the people who had exposed him or her to asbestos or their insurers then they would not receive full compensation


The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 come into force


Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council v MMI – The Court of Appeal decided that in a public liability claim, which is one where the exposure to asbestos was not from work, the correct public liability insurer was the one on cover 10 years before the mesothelioma sufferer developed symptoms.


Rice & Thompson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and another - The Court of Appeal found the National Dock Labour Board (The Government) owed a duty of care to dockworkers working in the Liverpool Dock who were exposed to asbestos.


The pleural plaques test cases - Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd – The House of Lords decided that pleural plaques were not compensatable.


The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2008 came into force. This allowed anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma who was exposed to asbestos in the UK to receive a one off lump sum payment from the Government.


Willmore v Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. Diane Willmore had been exposed to asbestos whilst attending secondary school in the 1970’s. She later developed mesothelioma. The Supreme Court decided that a mesothelioma sufferer did not have to show that their exposure to asbestos with any person doubled the risk of them developing mesothelioma compared to the risk of the risk of them developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos from the general environment.


"The Trigger Litigation". On the 28th March 2012, the Supreme Court gave their decision in 6 cases together called The Trigger Litigation. The Supreme Court had been asked to interpret insurance policies which had been entered into between employers who exposed their employees to asbestos and their Employers Liability Insurers. The Supreme Court decided that the insurance company who insured an employer at the time a mesothelioma sufferer was exposed to asbestos was the insurance company that should pay damages.


The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force.


The Mesothelioma Act 2014 gave the Government the power to establish The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2014. This scheme makes damages payments to those who have developed mesothelioma from being wrongly exposed to asbestos at work but their employer no longer exists and no insurer has been found.

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