Asbestos illnesses cost H&W £30m in compensation

MORE than £30 million pounds in compensation has been paid out to Harland & Wolff employees for asbestos-related illnesses.

As many as 2,693 employees have shared the 30,273,903 compensation since 2001.

But the compensation payout has only allowed employees to receive around 11,241.70 each.

Former Trade Minister Sir Reg Empey agreed in March 2002 to guarantee compensation for ex-shipyard staff.

According to figures also acquired in an Assembly question by DUP MLA Peter Weir, as many as 515 people have died in the last 10 years as a consequence of asbestos-related illnesses contracted through exposure to asbestos in their workplace during the previous decade.

In his Assembly response, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Nigel Dodds, said asbestos- related diseases are in the main "occupationally acquired and include asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer".

It is pointed out that the number of deaths caused by asbestos-related lung cancer is not available.

But it was revealed that the number of deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer may equal those caused by mesothelioma – 439.

In his response Minister Dodds said Harland & Wolff was taken into public ownership in 1975.

"Harland & Wolff plc (H&W plc) remained in public ownership at the time of the privatisation of the shipbuilding business in 1989. All liabilities that existed at this time were retained in H&W plc," he said.

"DETI has guaranteed funding to H&W plc to enable it to meet liabilities as they fall due.

"This commitment covers funding to meet obligations that would fall to the company in relation to agreed compensation claims from employees who contracted asbestos-related illnesses. This position was affirmed in a statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 5 March 2002 by Sir Reg Empey, the then DETI Minister."

The news comes as campaigners warn that asbestos disease-linked deaths are at epidemic levels and could become worse in coming decades.

With 515 people dying in the last 10 years the Justice for Asbestos Victims' (JAV) spokeswoman, Fiona Sterritt, has warned greater heartache lies ahead for victims and their families.

She said: "There is no doubt that it is an epidemic. There are people who were working with it on a daily basis into the 1990s.

"Anybody putting a noticeboard in a school could have been exposed to it. There is a latency there."

It takes years for asbestos-linked conditions like mesothelioma or lung cancer to develop.

JAV was established in 2002 by sufferers and the families of those who died from the diseases.

Ms Sterritt added people like plumbers and electricians had been badly affected.

"Everything built before the 1970s likely had some form of asbestos and it can take 30-40 years to develop," she added.

Lobbyists have predicted about 10,000 deaths a year across the UK. Most of those now suffering with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to asbestos between the 1940s and 1970s.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey told Mr Weir that he was committed to helping those affected.

"This will include health promotion awareness as well as provision of the full range of primary, secondary and community care services appropriate to the respiratory and oncology illnesses commonly associated with asbestos exposure," he said.

In the Assembly Question, Trade Minister Nigel Dodds, revealed there were 53 deaths last year, up on 42 in 1997. In 2004 a total of 65 people passed away.