Workers’ historic exposure to asbestos at the Cadbury factory

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Asbestos was widely used at the Cadbury factory in Bourneville during the 1960s and 1970s. Commonly utilised as an insulating and fireproofing material during this era, blue and white asbestos was used to lag pipe work in the building, and also as an insulating material for the boiler room.

This significant usage led to exposure by workers at the factory, with one such member of staff being research chemist, Richard Williams. Mr Williams worked at the factory from the mid-1960s, and his recent death in 2014 was attributed to malignant mesothelioma – a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

A call for more evidence

It is reported that Mr Williams worked in the packaging area of the factory – a department where maintenance work often involved disturbing the asbestos lagging. This would have released asbestos into the air, and caused anyone working in the vicinity to inhale the deadly dust and fibres.

Mr Williams’ widow has requested information on the state of her husband’s working environment from former colleagues, who she hopes will be able to shed light on the health and safety practices at the factory in relation to asbestos.

Law firm, Irwin Mitchell, is assisting Mrs Williams, with the aim of developing a case for compensation. They hope that other former factory workers, or those who knew Mr Williams, can help to establish whether more could have been done to protect her husband.

£100K paid out to former Cadbury’s publications worker

Compensation totalling £100K has already been paid out to one former worker at the Cadbury factory. In 2010, Brian Harrison, who worked as a publications officer, received this amount as a result of developing mesothelioma.

Mr Harrison’s job had involved interviewing other members of staff for the monthly in-house magazine, between 1954 and 1962. Because the interviews occasionally took place on the shop floor, he was exposed to asbestos dust and fibres that settled on worker’s overalls, as well as those that had been dispersed into the air.

Gill Owen, from Thompsons Solicitors said that Cadbury put forward a legal argument in their defence, that they:

“… could not have foreseen that the level of Mr Harrison’s asbestos exposure posed a risk of him developing mesothelioma.”

She went on to explain that:

“This is a defence often raised in cases where people who did not do manual jobs were exposed to asbestos before it became known in 1965 that even low level and infrequent exposure to asbestos could cause mesothelioma. ”

Asbestos not just an historic problem

Although many asbestos-related deaths are the result of historic exposure going back several decades, it remains a current issue for both professional and manual workers. Many older buildings including hospitals, libraries and schools, contain large quantities of asbestos in various forms, but members of staff remain largely unaware of its location, or even of its presence.

That is why asbestos awareness training is a legal obligation for employers of tradespeople who are likely to come into regular contact with asbestos during their normal working day. The problem is that doctors, teachers and those in other professions also risk exposure whilst carrying out their duties.