Was former engineer exposed to asbestos in the Houses of Parliament?

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A retired electrical engineer who worked at the Houses of Parliament during the 1970s and early 1980s kept diaries of his experiences, including the health and safety failings of his employers.

With little asbestos training available during that time, and a general lack of knowledge about the risks of asbestos, working conditions in many buildings were very dangerous.

Frederick Hodge died in August this year from mesothelioma, a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, after being exposed to asbestos at work. The disease is attributed to the inhalation of asbestos fibres, and in 2014 was the cause of 2,515 UK deaths.

20 years of diary entries

Mr Hodge’s sons discovered the diaries, which detail the intricacies of working life in the Houses of Parliament over a period of 20 years. They are being used to support a claim for compensation against his former employer – the Ministry of Public Building and Works – now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

One of the diary entries questioned the methods used to air test the building, a note being added by Mr Hodge – “Speak to Safety Office.”

Asbestos safety breaches

Mr Hodge was likely to have encountered asbestos on a regular basis whilst at work in the Houses of Parliament. His job was to supervise the maintenance of boilers and pipework, areas where asbestos was widely used as an insulating and fireproofing material.

It is unlikely he would have been trained to deal with asbestos at that time, or provided with protective equipment as is compulsory nowadays, and this would have left him exposed to asbestos, potentially on a daily basis.

Blue asbestos the most lethal form

Another retired engineer who worked at the Houses of Parliament during the 1980s, is also making a claim for compensation. He worked as an insulation engineer, and had to deal with crocidolite, or blue asbestos, which is the most dangerous type.

His solicitor said:

“He remembers having to remove his protective mask on several occasions when the air supply failed and not being told he had to be clean-shaven for the mask to fit properly. He also recalls that air tests failed in the areas he and fellow workers had their lunch and tea breaks.”

Plans to move out of the Houses of Parliament

The government is currently considering plans to move out of the Palace of Westminster, partly due to the level of asbestos that is present, but also to allow vital refurbishment works to be carried out.

There have been reports that service shafts contaminated with asbestos have not been sealed off, one of which was situated next to the Commons kitchen. It is said the door to this shaft was sometimes opened, allowing asbestos fibres that were disturbed to enter the room.

Asbestos removal is a costly process, and must be carried out by licensed contractors. It has been estimated the cost of removing asbestos from the Houses of Parliament, plus the renovation works, will be between £3.5 billion and £4 billion.

Image

By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1634181