Cases of Mesothelioma Linked to Shipbuilding are Falling in the UK

 By Warren Miller.   12th November 2019

Mesothelioma associated with UK dockyards appears to be falling after several decade of higher than normal rates.
The UK still has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world and overall deaths from the disease are not yet declining.

Shipbuilding in The UK was at its peak when great ships such as the Queen Mary and HMS Dreadnought were built in Glasgow and Portsmouth respectively early in the 20th century.

Shipyard mesothelioma rates

However, even though Mrs Thatcher was often blamed for the decline in the industry, it was actually overwhelmed by forces that would inevitably lead to its closure. Labour constraints and fixed capital investment were not appropriate in the post-war era. It failed to keep pace with mass production techniques in the US and given that the size of ships being built grew exponentially between 1950 and 1970, they rendered the relatively small UK shipyards obsolete.

There was huge competition from Japanese shipyards who built their shipyards from scratch after WWII, this made the shipbuilding much more efficient with margins that were impossible to match. Much of the core market for UK ships was disappearing with the decline of The Empire. Add all this up and the UK didn’t really stand a chance, whatever the political decisions that were made.

In spite of this, 134 vessels, some 1.47 million gross tonnes of shipping, were produced in the UK in 1976. There has been a further decline since then with just four ships built in 2011.

Why is there a link between Shipbuilding & Mesothelioma ?

Asbestos is a very good insulator against heat and was used extensively in industry, especially ship building. For decades it was used in boiler rooms and kitchens and was used to lag all of the pipework in ships. Ship workers were exposed to asbestos, not just those who lagged and repaired pipes and boilers, but also those who worked in the vicinity of the laggers. They often worked in confined spaces with little in the way of protective equipment or fumigation.

People who lived near shipyards were also more likely to inhale asbestos dust. Dockyards tended to be built in natural harbours or estuaries, these are often windy areas and that prevailing wind would carry the asbestos laden dust inland.

From the end of World War II until the late 1970s many thousands were exposed to asbestos around dockyards and shipyards. Several decades later this exposure can lead to asbestos diseases including the cancer mesothelioma.

Assessing Risk of Death Near Dockyards

In spite of the banning of asbestos in the UK from 1999 and the decline of shipbuilding, there are many related mesothelioma cases. New research was recently carried out at the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London. Researchers, lead by Dr Carl Reynolds wanted to determine the remaining level of mesothelioma that could be linked to shipbuilding in The United Kingdom. They first looked at the rate of mesothelioma cases for the UK as a whole, then compared these with specific rates around the UK's shipyards between 2002 and 2015.

Dr Carl Reynolds found that:

For most districts age-adjusted mesothelioma mortality rates increased through 2002 - 2015 but the relative contribution from districts with a dockyard fell. Dockyards remain strongly spatially associated with mesothelioma mortality but the strength of this association appears to be falling and mesothelioma deaths are becoming more dispersed.

If you worked in a shipyard or dockyard and were in contact with asbestos, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. You will need a diagnosis of an asbestos related disease. You may also claim for a deceased relative, even if they died many years ago. If you would like some advice, please feel free to contact us by phone, online chat or you could request a call-back and we will call at your convenience.

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