Public sector shoulders blame for asbestos-related illness

Public sector organisations are increasingly shouldering the blame for asbestos-related illnesses caused at private firms, according to a legal expert.

Peter Bennett, partner and head of the occupational disease team at law firm Dolmans, said state employers were often seen as a soft touch by lawyers.

The Health and Safety Executive is launching an asbestos awareness campaign in October to reduce the number of people exposed to the deadly substance at work.

Bennett said he had seen a steady rise in the number of asbestos-related claims against the public sector in recent years.

He said: “It is my impression that there is a belief that the public sector is more likely to pay out in event of such claims being made. It is therefore vulnerable to such claims in circumstances where commercial bodies might not be.”

Asbestos-related deaths are usually due to mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Sufferers are entitled to make a claim for compensation from their employers. A claimant does not need to prove that an employer exposed them to the asbestos that made them ill, just that the employer exposed them to asbestos that caused them to be at an increased risk of developing the condition.

Bennett said that someone found to have been exposed to asbestos at an unspecified point during a 20-year career spanning 10 employers, would often claim against the only public sector employer they had.

“If nine of that person’s former employers have gone to the wall years ago, or are hard to trace, the claimant lawyers will know exactly where to turn because, arguably, the public sector will be there to pick up the pieces,” he said. “This, potentially, leads to a disproportionate burden being placed upon the public sector in the context of these claims.”

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