Asbestos death secretary’s family awarded £360,000 compensation

The family of a woman who died after being exposed to asbestos while working as a secretary in a foundry has been awarded £360,000 in compensation, BBC Scotland has reported.

Winifred Thacker died in September 2014, aged 67, from the lung disease metastatic mesothelioma. She had worked as a secretary at the Atlas Steel Foundry in Armadale, West Lothian, for six years until 1967.

In her judgement, Lady Wise said the firm had done nothing to prevent Mrs Thacker’s exposure to asbestos.

Lawyers for her family said it was a landmark case because it was the first time a judge had ruled that harmful dust must be suppressed at its source. They argued that the foundry’s owners could have done this by using large extractors.

Asbestos fibres

The Atlas Steel Foundry closed in 1989 after 76 years. While she was employed there, Mrs Thacker would walk in and out of the foundry to deliver memos and to record slips from the clocking in machine.

She died from malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer which affects the thin membrane that lines the chest and abdomen.  According to Cancer Research UK, up to 80% of cases of malignant mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.

The lawyers for the foundry said they recognised Mrs Thacker had died of an asbestos-related condition.

However, they argued that she was too far away in an office and not in direct contact with the material, so they were not liable to pay compensation.

Reasonable steps

In her ruling at the Court of Session, Lady Wise said the company should have should have taken all reasonable steps to suppress the dust, but had not done so.

She said work at the foundry had created substantial dust, including asbestos dust, and that Mrs Thacker was “regularly and frequently” exposed to it during her her employment. In her written judgement, she said:

“While her exposure to asbestos was less than the levels to which those cutting the asbestos blankets and covering the castings with them were exposed, her exposure was to an extent likely to be injurious to her, as it ultimately was.

That injury was reasonably foreseeable and the defender did nothing to prevent it.”

Kieran Smith of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the family, said:

“This decision is important for all of those workers, like Mrs Thacker, who have suffered injury and death from exposure to dust and fumes in the workplace many years ago.

This decision confirms that Scots law recognises that the duty on the employer is to prevent the giving off of dust and fumes at source in order to properly protect their workers.”