In a bizarre twist, recent news reports tell the story of a plumber who was a ‘witness’ at his own inquest. Retired plumber, Sidney Roper of Darley Abbey, a village on the outskirts of Derbyshire was diagnosed with asbestosis, a fatal condition that affects the lungs. The 81 year old was pursuing a compensation claim when he developed bronchopneumonia and died two weeks later.
Although Mr. Roper moved jobs several times, he was always working in an environment where asbestos was in the atmosphere, or working directly with asbestos. After leaving school, Mr. Roper became an apprentice at a Derby factory for four years. He left that job in order to complete his National Service, but returned afterwards to the factory where he was exposed to asbestos dust.
In 1961, Mr. Roper joined British Rail and worked in a boiler shop where he would handle asbestos on a regular basis in an atmosphere that contained asbestos particles in the air. Mr. Roper also worked at various power stations in the UK for two years and later joined a firm of printers where he was significantly exposed to asbestos dust during his work. From 1981 onwards, he worked for the county council as a plumber and continued to be exposed to asbestos dust on a regular basis. Most of his working environments were described as dusty, dark and noisy and he stopped working in 1993 after a heart attack rendered him too ill to continue.
Before his death, Mr. Roper prepared a statement about how he regularly stripped asbestos off boilers and inhaled asbestos dust during his long career. This was in order to pursue a compensation claim once he had been diagnosed with the deadly asbestosis disease which claims the lives of more people every year than are killed in road accidents. The latest figures for 2011 show that 2,291 deaths were caused by mesothelioma (an aggressive type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) while an estimated 2,000 deaths were caused by asbestos related lung cancer.
Assistant Coroner, Louise Pinder, concluded at the inquest that asbestosis and the stroke played a part in Mr. Roper’s death, which shows that the statements he prepared were not in vain. This sorry story just goes to show that asbestos is still a huge problem here in the UK, despite the total ban on its use in 1999. Because it can take between 20 to 50 years for symptoms of the disease to develop, we are sure to see more deaths from this deadly substance in the years to come. Asbestos related deaths are expected to peak over the next five years or so.
The Mesothelioma Act 2014 has seen the UK government increasing the packages available for those who are unable to trace liable former employers or insurers in a bid to ensure that all those who suffer from asbestosis and their families receive the compensation to which they are entitled.