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Lawyers claim dusty work clothes were to blame for widow’s death

It has been claimed that Paula Briggs’ death was caused by breathing in asbestos dust as she cleaned her husband’s work clothes every day. Her late husband, Jack, was exposed to asbestos dust and fibres whilst working for an aviation factory during the 1970s and 1980s.

The substance was then transferred to his home environment via dusty work clothes and boots, subsequently being inhaled by his wife as she dusted and cleaned them.

Solicitors representing the family of Mrs Briggs say this consistent exposure to asbestos led to her death. She passed away in August 2014, five months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos.

Large amounts of asbestos dust in the house

Solicitor, Peter Cowan, representing the family, has issued a High Court writ claiming up to £110,000 in damages. In a statement he explained the circumstances surrounding the case, and how Mrs Briggs came to be exposed to such large amounts of asbestos dust and fibres:

“The deceased would sort the clothing from the laundry basket, shaking off the dust from the work clothing and in particular removing the dust which had gathered in the trouser turnups and in the various pockets.”

Given that asbestos dust particles are minute, it would probably have drifted throughout the property and been impossible to avoid. Mr Cowan went on to say:

“She would have to sweep up the dust off the kitchen floor, porch and pantry which had been shed from her husband’s footwear, clothing and person. She would shake out his work bag, which was also contaminated with asbestos fibres and dust.”

A duty of care

Nowadays, employers have an undeniable duty of care in relation to asbestos. In fact, employers in the UK are legally obliged to provide asbestos awareness training to any worker who could come into contact with the substance.

Mrs Briggs’ family claim her late husband’s employer should have known about the dangers employees were being exposed to, and made provision for their health and safety. Many people did not realise that asbestos was a carcinogenic substance in those days, and it was only banned in the UK in 1999.

Widely used in the construction industry, asbestos also played a large part in the manufacture, maintenance and repair of vehicles, ships and planes. Its fire retardant properties made it popular for use in brake pads and gaskets, as well as lagging for pipes.

Health and Safety Executive responsible for the safety of workers

Tradespeople including plumbers, central heating engineers and electricians, are highly likely to come across asbestos at work, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides detailed guidelines and resources for dealing with the substance.

The dangers are now widely known, but sometimes still ignored – hence the need for prosecution and enforcement measures against employers who fail to protect their workers, and put the health and safety of the general public at risk.