• For most of the 20th century asbestos was in regular use in Chatham dockyards, as well as being widely used in other industries across the country. Asbestos was known for being resistant to heat and for its good insulating properties and could regularly be found in pipework, tanks, engines and boilers of ships. However, it was not until the early part of the 1960s that it became more widely known that the consequences of the use of asbestos could be linked to mesothelioma. Sadly for too many workers at Chatham dockyards and elsewhere there was too long a delay between this knowledge of the risk of mesothelioma from asbestos and action taken to prevent asbestos exposure. This is why many employers are liable to compensate for mesothelioma/other diseases caused by asbestos.

    The history of the Chatham dockyards
    Although Chatham dockyards had a history dating back to 1547 it was not until 1613 that the dockyard site moved to its final location in Chatham, Medway where it was responsible for the building of over 400 ships and the maintenance and repair of many more. As such, Chatham dockyards played a key role in British naval history over the centuries and were responsible for building 57 submarines, the last of which left Chatham dockyards during 1983 prior to its closure in 1984.

    What is mesothelioma?
    Mesothelioma is a form of cancer predominantly of the lung wall which can invariably be linked to exposure to asbestos. Small asbestos fibres seem to attach themselves to the inside of the lungs at the time of asbestos exposure where they remain dormant for many years. Mesothelioma is far more common in men than women and the evidence appears to indicate that the risk of developing mesothelioma increases with the length of exposure to asbestos.

    What are the statistics?
    The Association of personal injury lawyers stated that out of every 100,000 deaths in Medway, 4.7 were attributed to mesothelioma. Medway has had the second highest death rate in the country and the statistics remain high. Across the country annually about 2,200 people die of mesothelioma and between 2006 and 2010 mesothelioma caused 104 deaths in Medway alone.

    The numbers of affected persons in set to rise further
    It is predicted that asbestos related diseases will continue to rise for at least the next few years and with so many companies publishedly exposing their employees, particularly between the 1960s and early 1980s. At Chatham dockyards many were exposed to asbestos whilst working on ships including joiners, labourers, engineers and those employed to clean the pipes or buildings, generally following maintenance.

    It was not unusual for there to be a build up of asbestos in unventilated areas such as engine/boiler rooms of ships, meaning exposure was often high.
    Claims are not limited to the workers at Chatham dockyards themselves as exposure to asbestos dust has been known to have passed to wives washing and cleaning their husbands clothes.
    Even this indirect asbestos exposure has been known to cause mesothelioma for which compensation can be claimed.

    Chatham dockyards employees may be in a better position to claim than most
    Due to the long passage of time between exposure to asbestos and any resulting mesothelioma/other disease, it can sometimes be a difficult procedure to successfully bring a claim for compensation. Many companies who exposed their employees to asbestos will have draft and insurance policies may well have been forgotten or lost. However, many workers at Chatham dockyards will have been employed by the Ministry of Defence. As long as the worker was a civilian and not a member of the forces, there is no bar on a dockyard worker claiming compensation from the government for negligently causing mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases.

    Even where the employer exposing to asbestos was not the government and is out of business, their old insurers can sometimes be traced (eg through the Employer Liability Tracing Office) and an asbestos compensation claim can then be brought against the insurers.

    In addition for those diagnosed with mesothelioma after July 2012 there is now a new compensation scheme for victims negligently exposed to asbestos by employers who have gone without trace of an insurer. This will pay 80% of normal compensation levels. However, the application must be brought within the victim’s lifetime or by their surviving spouse/financially dependent child.

    Jeremy Horton specialises in asbestos/mesothelioma claims on a no win no fee basis. If you/your family are a victim of asbestos disease from Chatham dockyard or elsewhere please contact him on 01622 680415 for free advice.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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