As far as occupational illness and industrial disease is concerned, governments and employers have always been slow to react to new research and findings.
Many of us in the UK are now aware of the threat posed by asbestos and due to new risk management practices, many construction and factory workers know not to handle vibrating tools or equipment for prolonged periods of time; to prevent the onset of Vibration White Finger or hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)
To illustrate the relationship between discovery, and the implementation of preventative measures, the link between Vibration White Finger and the use of vibrating tools was discovered following a study conducted by Alice Hamilton MD in 1918; a scale for assessing the condition didn't appear until 1975, and even then, it wasn't until a decade later that it became listed as a prescribed disease. Then in 1997, the UK government paid £127,000 in white finger claims to seven coal miners suffering from vibration white finger. So between discovery of the condition, through to official recognition of the problem, we have a gap of 67 years, 79 years if you count the wait for a successful claim to be made.
In the present-day, this comparison is obviously unfair, as modern medicine and research has developed incredibly, as has the responsibility of employers to protect their employees.
Even so, Asbestos has a very similar history, in that its ill-effects on health were noted as early as 1898 where the British Chief Inspector of Factories reported that asbestos had "easily demonstrated" health risks. Around this time, a mortality study was conducted among asbestos workers in France, the first of its kind; prompted by the death of 50 workers.
These early studies ensured that asbestos fibre exposure was recognised as an occupational health hazard from the early 20th century. This stance was further compounded with a myriad of epidemiological studies that linked asbestos exposure to asbestosis, carcinoma of the lungs, diffuse pleural thickening and the development of pleural plaques; among many other conditions.
Despite this, asbestos use was pervasive; finding its way into building materials, industrial products and household textiles and appliances because of its heat retardant properties.
According to historical sources, it's thought that Asbestos has been mined for over 4,000 years; but asbestos mining didn't reach its peak until 1975, despite the fact that its ill-effects were already well known by this point. in the 1950s, researchers recommended that warning labels be attached to asbestos products and in 1953, the Safety Director of National Gypsum wrote to the Indiana Division of Industrial Hygiene, recommending that acoustic plaster mixers wear respirators. Despite these efforts, companies removed all mentions of 'cancer' in relation to their product in all sponsored research and the Safety Director's letter, was retrieved before it reached its destination.
With little official opposition, asbestos use continued well into the 1980s, but it wasn't until 1985 that the UK government banned blue and brown asbestos materials; whilst white asbestos wasn't outlawed until 1999.The United States on the other hand, still allows for its use in certain cases.
So in the case of Asbestos and its catastrophic ability to inflict a variety of industrial diseases; the gap between recognising the problem and governments actually reacting effectively has been over two centuries.
Luckily, these days we have medicinal research journals and health organisations in place to affect the decisions of government officials to prevent such widespread epidemics. Recently, research published by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that around 8,000 people in Britain die each year as a direct result of industrial disease or occupational illness, such as those caused by lead poisoning and asbestos use. Interestingly, the results show that half of these deaths were in male professionals with a construction background.
In addition to these findings, diesel engine fumes have also been classed as a carcinogen as a result of findings published by the Agency for Research on Cancer. Further work performed by the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, presents findings indicating a link between night shift working and contracting breast cancer.
Will it be 100 to 200 years before employers and governments make changes to prevent further damage courtesy of the subjects of these studies? Let us hope not. For those that are aware of these findings however, they can take steps to protect themselves now. Mechanics and automotive professionals can use appropriate masks or ventilators when working around diesel engines, whilst female night shift workers can consider limiting their hours as a precaution.
Whatever your industry, it's prudent to keep abreast of medical developments in your field. Even for sedentary desk workers, the effects of sitting down for long periods are well known, and can lead to all manner of weight and cardiac problems if not prevented or remedied with an appropriate diet or sufficient exercise.
So, don't become one of the 8,000. Be aware and stay healthy.
Unfortunately for some, it's a little too late for preventative measures, but it isn't too late to make a claim. In some instances, eligible claimants can also be entitled to state payments from the government. So if you're suffering from ill health that could be related to your past occupations, there may well be a connection.
Some of the most common industrial disease claims include asbestosis claim, back pain compensation as well as for cases like occupational asthma and white finger claims.
If you would like more information on whether you're eligible to make a claim, or if you would like some advice on how to proceed with making one; speak to your local personal injury solicitor today. Money can't repair the damage, but it can help to make life easier if you succeed.
Asons Solicitors is a Bolton-based law practice that specialises in personal injury and industrial disease claims. Founded by brothers Imran Akram and Kamran Akram, Asons Solicitors has developed to become a young and dynamic law firm that delivers practical solutions to clients in times of difficulty. Their continued focus on their staff has seen them awarded with the Investors in People "Gold Award"; which is reflected in the professional and personable approach they take in working with clients. They strive to grow and to develop, and their supportiveness and attention to detail ensures that their clients use them time and again.