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Workers Fight for Justice on 'Silent Killer'

Over the past year there has been increased press coverage on the subject of asbestos related diseases affecting the trades, particularly electricians. It was a surprise to me that according to HSE figures, 6 electricians each week die from asbestosis, and despite the use of the material being heavily restricted, the numbers of workers affected by it is expected to rise. It was therefore another surprise to learn that the government is stalling on payouts for asbestos-affected workers...

In October, 2007, the House of Lords ruled that pleural plaques, which is a lung condition caused by exposure to asbestos is not subject to compensation. The condition is widely believed to lead to mesothelioma and as such, leaves sufferers not only with scarred lungs, but also a very worrying future. The other result of this decision which angered Trades Unions was that the British insurance industry was now happily £1.4bn better off, and the government £350m.

Fast forward to late July 2009 and after months of delays, people awaiting a decision on whether the government would overrule the Lords’ decision were told, ‘sorry, you’ll have to wait until October.’ The general feeling is not positive, with many believing the likely outcome will be a system of £5,000 payouts funded by the tax payer rather than compensation from insurance companies.

What makes this even more galling is that Scotland has already agreed to reinstate payments and Northern Ireland is likely to follow, leaving workers in England and Wales with an extremely raw deal.

The stalling is seen by many as a betrayal by the government. With the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council stating that pleural plaques will become a common condition with as many as 36,000 to 90,000 people a year developing it, any refusal by the government to overturn the ruling would be seen as either protecting themselves or the insurers.

I’m certainly not an advocate of knee-jerk lawsuits, but this strikes me as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of the government and a denial of justice. Workers have been negligently exposed to asbestos, leaving them with physical injuries and a very uneasy future and yet they are being denied a response most people would consider a clear right. Were this a case relating to a foodstuff and consumers, you can be sure the victims would be able to name a price for their compensation. Though even after the fanfare of the new Corporate Manslaughter Act, workers still seem to be somewhat less well catered for.

Let’s hope that the government finally agrees to reinstate full compensation to the many electricians, builders and plumbers who have developed pleural plaques, keeping us in line with the rest of the country and going a little way to putting right some terrible wrongs.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott
01732 359990

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