What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals which are made up of heat-resistant fibres.  It was used in thousands of products before the dangers of asbestos were widely known.  As such it was commonly used in a number of industries, in particular auto parts, construction, cement, electrical parts and insulation.  People who worked in such industries were commonly exposed to asbestos without understanding the potential risks.

What is asbestos

Diseases linked to asbestos exposure

Asbestos is linked to several diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening and COPD.

Mesothelioma –

this affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs and causes symptoms including chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, unusual lumps of tissue and weight loss.  Mesothelioma is not curable and whilst treatment options can extend a person’s life, it is a fatal disease.

Asbestosis –

this is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibres.  The symptoms do not manifest until years after the exposure and usually include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fatigue and chest pain.  In advanced cases clubbing of the fingertips is indicative of asbestosis.  Again there is no cure for asbestosis but it is less aggressive than mesothelioma and its progression can be slowed down. 

Diffuse Pleural Thickening –

this is caused by scar tissue forming on the lining of the lungs (the pleura) which reduces the lung capacity and therefore causes breathlessness.  The asbestos fibres are trapped within the pleura which causes inflammation.  It can range from a fairly mild and not serious condition to an indication of mesothelioma. 

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is not caused by exposure to asbestos but people who have asbestosis may develop COPD as a complication.  COPD weakens the lungs and makes them more susceptible to disease.  The most common cause of COPD is smoking but a 2020 study established that whilst exposure to insulating materials was often associated with an increased risk of recurrent chest infections, asbestos was the only insulating material to also increase the risk of COPD.


Whilst the vast majority of these illnesses are contracted during the course of employment, some people are unfortunate enough to suffer from them even when they have not worked with asbestos themselves.  This is known as secondary exposure, and most commonly occurs when an individual has been in contact with somebody who has worked with asbestos.  There have been numerous cases where the wife of a worker has come into contact with asbestos through washing their husband’s overalls and have then developed an asbestos related illness.  In addition, asbestos is still in existence in a lot of old buildings, including some schools and hospitals.  This is generally not harmful unless it is disturbed, for example during refurbishment works.  Once it is disturbed and becomes airborne, and it can be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity with the potential to cause disease.

Making a claim

Claims against former employers for injury arising out of exposure to asbestos are not easy to pursue for a number of reasons.  In particular the exposure is likely to have been years, often decades, earlier.  Often those companies will no longer be in existence.  Secondly it is often difficult to establish that an individual’s symptoms have in fact been caused by exposure to asbestos, particularly if there are multiple causes for their respiratory problems, for example they are a current or former smoker.  Also in some cases it may be that multiple former employers have exposed an individual to asbestos and as such have contributed to their illness.

How can we help?

How can we help?

Tilly Bailey & Irvine have a long and successful history of pursuing claims against former employers in these difficult circumstances, even where the companies in question are no longer trading. 

If you have been diagnosed with a respiratory illness which you believe has been caused by your current or previous employment, contact our specialist team on 01429 264101 or fill in an online enquiry form and someone will be in touch.

Call: 01429 264101