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A retired British Rail employee has secured £125,000 in compensation from his former employer after being diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.
The former fitter and electrician worked for British Rail at its Upperby and Kingsmoor depots in Carlisle between 1959 and 1993. He carried out various jobs, initially working as an electrician, then as a dual-trained fitter, then as an inspector of rolling stock and lastly as a depot supervisor.
In the early days of his employment, he worked in close proximity to the area where steam locomotives were repaired. The engines' boilers and fireboxes were lagged with blue asbestos, which had to be removed in order to carry out maintenance work on the pipes. The asbestos lagging, which was dry and brittle owing to its exposure to extreme heat, was left on the shed floor, with cleaners only periodically sweeping it up, so workers trampled on it as they carried out repairs. Asbestos fibres can be 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, are often invisible to the human eye and can float in the air for long periods, so can easily be breathed into the lungs.
Later on, the man came into contact with asbestos when he worked on diesel locomotives. He used to stand in an inspection pit in order to work on the units. There was a thick layer of blue asbestos between the engine and the frame of the unit. This had to be moved to enable him to work on the cables and pipes. Sometimes he would cut away sections of the asbestos and it would fall to the floor, causing a lot of dust. He often spent hours working in such conditions.
He subsequently worked on the exhaust pipes of the diesel locomotives, which were wrapped around with white asbestos rope. The pipes were situated inside, on top of the engine, and often had to be removed in order to carry out the required maintenance work. This necessitated working in a confined space and the asbestos rope was brittle and easily disintegrated.
At no time was he warned about the potential dangers involved in handling or working in the proximity of asbestos and no protective equipment was provided.
When asbestos fibres enter the body, they can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells. These can lie dormant for many years before a victim shows any signs of illness. By the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, the survival rate is poor, with around 75 per cent of sufferers dying within one year of diagnosis. It is therefore vital that compensation is paid to those affected at the earliest possible time.
In this case, an interim compensation payment was made in order to ensure the claimant had access to funds to provide him with immediate assistance until such time as the full claim was settled.