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The hazards of asbestos have been known about since the 1930s. However, as thousands of victims know to their cost, routine exposure in the workplace continued for decades thereafter. In one case, a painter and decorator who worked with the substance in the 1970s and 1980s has launched a claim for £300,000 in damages against his council employer.
According to a claim form issued in the High Court, the man was employed by a local authority when he left school in 1975 and was exposed to vast quantities of asbestos dust until 1985. Ironically, he was said to have only realised the danger he was in when he joined the council's asbestos removal team.
He was shocked to find himself removing asbestos-contaminated decorations and fittings that he had himself installed. He was said to have stripped asbestos out of boiler rooms where he had previously eaten his lunch. Although he had been given specialist clothing and breathing apparatus in his new role as a licensed asbestos remover, he had enjoyed no such protection in his former job.
The man has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs, and his condition is said to be rapidly deteriorating. In suing the council on his behalf, alleging negligence and breach of duty, his lawyers pointed out that the risks associated with asbestos had been a matter of record for decades before his exposure. The case has not yet reached trial and the contents of the claim form have yet to be tested in evidence before a judge.