The claimants worked from 1955 to 1967 at Liverpool docks. They were employed by a company called Clan Line in the unloading of asbestos but the successor in title to their employer had since dissolved. So, the case was against the National Dock Labour Board (NDLB) who controlled Liverpool docks.

The issue the Judge had to decide was whether the NDLB had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the claimant’s health and safety when they were working for another employer at the docks, given that the NDLB allocated employment to dock employees and given the provisions of the NDLB scheme 1947.

The Judge found that the state of knowledge of the NDLB about the risks of asbestos made it just and reasonable that they owed a duty of care to the claimant. In particular, they should have encouraged the employers of the claimant to provide breathing apparatus, protective equipment, extraction equipment and insured that cargoes of asbestos were properly sealed as well as restricting registration to employers who provided safe systems of work.

The judge found the NDLB knew, through its medical staff and / or the local boards, about the foreseeable risk of asbestos injury and that the employers of the claimant did not provide protective equipment and / or had working conditions which have been criticised in reports by Lord Devlin’s committee at the time (referred to in paragraph 14 of the judgment).

It could not be reasonable or fair that NDLB would be immune from action. Irrespective of the time the claimants were allocated to registered port employers, the NDLB owed its duty of care to them.

John Hendy QC for the claimant

Rice -v- Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) and Stuntbrand Line Limited (2) [2006] EWHC 1257 2006. High Court of Justice Queens Bench Division Manchester District registry, 26 May 2006

Please see both the damages and procedure section below for two further cases of interest in asbestos litigation.