Harland and Wolff: Asbestos Exposure Claims

The UK Government is facing a huge bill for compensation from former employees of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast over their exposure to asbestos. Hundreds of workers have already died from asbestos-related diseases and doctors say they expect increasing numbers of people to fall ill in future. As a result, the government is preparing itself for claims in excess of £100m.
Up until about 1970, asbestos was a widely used insulation material in a number of industries, but particularly in shipbuilding. In the confines of a hull, thousands of workers were exposed to the deadly fibres. In recent years, several hundred people have died from lung cancer as a result. Several thousand more have suffered from a range of lung diseases. The cancer can take up to 40 years to emerge and doctors expect to see more cases in future. This, combined with a rise in the level of settlements, means there is a growing compensation bill. As Harland and Wolff was in public ownership at the time, liability for the shipyard rests with the government.
Over the next four years it expects to pay out £40m and over the next 50 years potentially up to £190m, although that figure will remain under review.
However, several hundred of those who worked in the shipyard before asbestos was banned in 1970 have died from cancers. As many as 20,000 people worked in Harland and Wolff following World War II and it is estimated that more than 1,000 cases have already been settled. Dr Liam Heaney of Belfast City Hospital said there was a latent time between the asbestos exposure and the development of the clinical problem. “Because of this, it can be many years after you have been exposed to asbestos that the problem appears.

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