Asbestos Policy Changes

It is a common misconception that mesothelioma and asbestos related illnesses are usually only associated with those who worked in industry and construction.  However, asbestos is not just a problem of the industrial past.

A change in HMRC policy however could delay mesothelioma claims.  Previously, requests for the employment history of a deceased person were readily and speedily available – an important factor in any asbestos related claim where time literally is of the essence.  From now on requests for the employment history of a deceased person can only be released to the executors, administrators or solicitor acting on their behalf together with a Court Order served on the General Counsel and Solicitor to the HMRC.

The use of asbestos was extensive in the 1950s right through to the 1980s before finally its use was banned in the UK in 1999.  Within the European Union asbestos in any form is now virtually banned.  Due to its large scale use in the construction sector and many other industries, asbestos is still an issue.  Having a continuous awareness of its dangers is vital today as more mesothelioma victims are now coming forward who do not fit the “usual” profile of construction or engineering workers.

Asbestos when disturbed or damaged releases dust and fibres which, if they are inhaled, can lead to asbestos related diseases, which include mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and diffuse pleural thickening.  In regard to mesothelioma medical experts maintain that this can be caused by exposure to a single fibre and the symptoms can take decades to show themselves.  Sadly the disease is a terminal condition, and although some treatments are available, they can only achieve a slight increase in life expectancy and some pain relief.

Perhaps unbelievably there are some 3,000 recorded uses of asbestos in a variety of products and applications.  Historically, and perhaps somewhat frighteningly these have included such things as powdered “asbestos snow” sold as Christmas decorations in the 1960s and the use of blue asbestos in cigarette filters for the Kent Cigarette brand in the 1950s.  Today asbestos is still present in many products, such as “fireproof” textiles, paper and boards, clutch and brake linings, asbestos cement sheets and pipes, flooring and roofing products, electrical and thermal insulating materials.

It would be dangerous to assume that asbestos is an historic problem affecting only people who worked in certain professions and industries, and that cases will decline.  More and more cases of mesothelioma are coming to light where people were exposed without their knowledge and without working in occupations typically associated with asbestos related diseases.

Because cases are presenting when the victim may have been exposed to asbestos some years ago, obtaining their employment history is very important since that information is based on someone’s national insurance contributions from 1961 onwards and is how asbestos claim solicitors can prove where someone worked when other documents simply do not exist.  Employment history details from HMRC are invaluable in helping to trace previous employers and their insurers as the records will give the correct name of a company where a client (or relative) may only recall a trading name or abbreviation.

HMRC maintain that the reason for the change of policy is because the records are stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1988.  However, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has written to HMRC pointing out that the Data Protection Act 1988 does not apply to deceased persons.  The rights to privacy attaching to the deceased’s data pass to their personal representatives upon death and they can give consent for the records to be released.

Generally, people are unaware that asbestos may be present in any building built or refurbished before 2000.  The toxic material is believed to still be present in 500,000 properties in the UK.  The deadly substance is relatively safe if it is undisturbed, but when tradesmen such as joiners, electricians or plumbers or DIY enthusiasts carry out work, they may accidentally expose themselves and others who use the building to its hazardous fibres.  Those people exposed to asbestos today will not show symptoms until several decades later, by which time it is usually too late to do anything other than provide palliative care for the condition.

If you would like to discuss your situation and believe you may have an asbestos-related compensation claim, please call Seatons and we will be pleased to have a chat with you.  We specialise in personal injury claims and have a team of specialists who can assist you with these matters.