Procurement · 27 January 2016

Asbestos victims gagged by negligent employers

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More than 1,800 people die a year due to diseases related to asbestos exposure

Small businesses are failing to make premises safe from asbestos, putting contractors and employees at risk, an expert lawyer has said.

The number of people filing legal complaints against employers each month after having been recently exposed to asbestos without warning has increased, according to specialist mesothelioma solicitor at law firm Simpson Millar, Helen Grady.

In a sign that employers do not fulfil responsibilities when it comes to managing asbestos, and in order to prevent workers speaking out against firms, staff have reportedly been forced to sign gagging orders before receiving compensation.

“When cases for negligent exposure to asbestos are settled out of court, victims are sometimes only awarded their damages after signing a gagging order – preventing them to from ever speaking of their case,” explained Grady.

Asbestos continues to be present in many commercial buildings, but small firms in particular are reluctant to arrange proper surveys. “Firms know that if asbestos-containing materials are found, they might have to pay for it to be made safe, which can be expensive,” added Grady.

According to The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, businesses occupying commercial property must either be certain that buildings are free of asbestos, or take steps to discover if any has been used and what condition it could be in.

Small business owners are advised to take action and presume the presence of asbestos, and take steps to inform and protect anyone who might come into contact with it.

“Doing nothing is not a defence,” Grady went on to say. “The government needs to tighten up controls or we will continue to see the devastating effects of what asbestos does to the human body.

“Neglect is going unnoticed and failings are allowed to continue. When sufferers are already dealing with the enormity of receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma or asbestos related cancer, they can’t face another battle in the role of whistle-blower.”

The number of deaths caused by asbestos exposure in the 1960s and 1970s today could still be yet to peak. More than 1,800 people in the UK die each year from asbestos-related mesothelioma, and doctors have said that 2015 could see the height of the epidemic.

According to reports from The British Medical Journal, the time between first exposure to asbestos and people falling victim to mesothelioma is rarely less than 25 years and often more than 50 years, meaning that those exposed to asbestos before regulations were tightened in the 1980s could still be struck down.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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