New asbestos “watershed” date

The senior civil Judge at Cardiff County Court has ruled that employers should have eliminated asbestos dust in their factory within eight months at most of the “watershed” Sunday Times articles of 31 October 1965.

The claimant, in this case, died from mesothelioma in 2001. She had worked on a production line where metal components were made for tin cans. They were dried in ovens with asbestos belts. Asbestos dust was released in the general operation of the oven and the claimant worked three to four feet away.

The defendant had said that the date of knowledge for this sort of danger started in 1968. The claimant had left the factory by then. They also said that this was white asbestos (chrysotile) and that low levels of exposure to that type of asbestos did not have the potential to increase the risk of mesothelioma.

The court found the Sunday Times’ article of October 1965 was of watershed importance. Following that article, the defendant was on notice that if employees were exposed to even very low (“minimal”) levels of asbestos, they were at risk of contracting mesothelioma.

The defendant should have begun to review their processes by early 1966 and changed their transfer box to a non-asbestos alternative by the autumn of that year. In failing to do so, they were in breach of the common law and section 63 of the Factories’ Act 1961.

There was no threshold level below which exposure to chrysotile can be regarded as safe. Moreover, it would very likely have been contaminated and more dangerous.

The deceased’s exposure to asbestos was small but not trivial, had at least doubled her risk of developing mesothelioma, and was thus causative of her disease. This is only a county court decision so cannot be used as a “ precedent” by others but is hoped Judges will follow suit for similar claims.

Jones -v- Metal Box Ltd. Cardiff County Court, 11 January 2007.