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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of soft and flexible fibres. This makes asbestos an effective insulator and a useful building product, but also makes exposure to asbestos fibres highly toxic and dangerous. If you have been exposed to asbestos fibres in the past, it can take many years for the symptoms of asbestos-associated illnesses to appear.

Being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease can be incredibly difficult for the person involved as well as the family and loved ones of a sufferer, but it is important to note that help is available in the form of compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Background to asbestos in Australia

Losing a number of our own family members to mesothelioma and witnessing first hand what a terrible and cruel disease it is we have a unique and genuine insight into the physical, mental and financial consequences of the condition for not only the victim but also the whole family.     

Why are we passionate about asbestos injuries?

To know that these asbestos-related diseases were totally preventable and have persisted only through corporate greed is what hurts even more.

It's for all of these reasons that we are passionate about helping people affected by this insidious disease.    We want to lessen the burden on the victims and their families by making the process as simple and efficient as we can.  And we’ll take on the fight for workers compensation to ensure the best possible financial outcome is achieved.

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When was asbestos used?

Asbestos began being mined in a major way in the 1880s.   By as early as 1889 British factory safety inspectors were aware of the potential harm of asbestos fibres. The first cases of asbestos deaths in factories were recorded in 1906 in Britain. In Australia James Hardie and Wunderlick were the primary manufacturers. 

In 1977 James Hardie bought out the Wunderlick fibro factories and all of their products.  James Hardie continued to produce asbestos products until 1983.

When was asbestos banned in Australia?

The use of crocidolite (blue) asbestos was banned in 1967 while the use of amosite (brown asbestos) was permitted in the construction industry until the mid 1980s. It was banned from building products in 1989, and cannot be imported, used or recycled. Despite these bans, Australia’s homes are still full of asbestos, with two out of three homes built between World War I and World War II and the early 1980’s made with material containing asbestos.

How much asbestos is harmful?

Occupational standards for asbestos exposure are 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air for all types of asbestos, including chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite. Typical long term population exposure is estimated at around 0.0005 fibres per millilitre.

Where is asbestos commonly found?

Asbestos was used in a wide variety of building and other materials around the home.  It can be found in fibro sheeting in walls and ceilings, water drainage and flue pipes, roofing shingles and guttering as well as the backing of vinyl sheet flooring and so on.  Other locations inside the home typically include kitchen splashbacks, vinyl floor tiles, wood heaters and ventilators, angle mouldings and insulation in roof cavities.

Outside the home asbestos can be found in places such as sheds and external toilets, fences, garages, gutters, eaves and gable ends, downpipes, dog kennels and electrical metre boards.

Because it is heat retardant it’s also found in many commercial settings and was used in equipment such as brake linings, engine rooms, naval vessels and so on. 

Which products contained asbestos

Asbestos was used in a wide array of building and other materials including:

James Hardie Products:

  • Fibrolite flat sheets
  • Tilux
  • Super six (roofing and fences)
  • Standard corrugated (cover strips, mouldings, ridge capping, guttering and down pipes)
  • Shadow line
  • Coverline
  • Hardi-flex
  • Hardi- plank
  • Compressed fibro
  • Striated Hardi-flex
  • Asbestolux
  • Versilux
  • Villa board

Wunderlick Products:

  • Wunderflex
  • Durawall
  • Duradeck
  • Rib Wall
  • Bevelux
  • Wunderplank
  • Villaboard

How long does it take to get asbestosis?

While a low-level environmental exposure to asbestos may cause asbestosis, it is usually the case that asbestosis arises after occupational exposure (through work) over many years of exposure. Occasionally, short term exposure over some months can happen where very high airborne fibre levels were present.

Can you get asbestosis from one exposure?

It is highly unlikely that a single exposure to asbestos would cause asbestosis. However, the Australian Mesothelioma Registry has shown that 5-7% of cases occur in persons with no apparent history of occupational or environmental exposure. However, this does not mean that those people have never been exposed to asbestos, rather it means that there is no evidence of background exposure found by the methods used in assessing sufferers.

Exposure to asbestos can happen in many ways - through exposure in the workplace, or exposure in the community or home. Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases or illnesses. Even if you do not know or cannot recall how you were exposed to asbestos our Brisbane personal injury lawyers will help you work it out.

Asbestos exposure is the only known risk factor for mesothelioma, a cancer which affects the mesothelial cells which cover most of your internal organs. You may have heard of people talking about ‘dust diseases’ after exposure to asbestos products. It can take between 20 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos to develop mesothelioma, with people who are most at risk including builders, plumbers, electricians, welders, asbestos miners, and textile workers.

  • Asbestosis - this is a non-malignant disease resulting in the scarring of lung tissue. People who suffer from asbestosis will generally have endured occupational exposure to asbestos and will have been in an asbestos-heavy environment for some months, if not years.
  • Pleural disease - a non-malignant disease which results in shortness of breath and some discomfort as a result of pleural thickening. The pleura is a thin membrane which lines the lungs and chest cavity and when exposed to asbestos can thicken causing pleural scarring.
  • Mesothelioma - a highly malignant tumor of the tissue membrane which lines the internal organs. When types of mesothelioma are localised around the lungs it is called pleural mesothelioma, whereas tumors in the abdomen are called peritoneal mesothelioma. People diagnosed with mesothelioma have a five year survival rate of only 6% which is why it is so important to seek legal help as soon as you can.
  • Lung cancer - this has been associated with all forms of asbestos exposure and generally occurs between 10 and 30 years after exposure to asbestos. Asbestos workers who also smoke are at a greater risk of lung cancer.

Workers most at risk of past asbestos exposure

While most cases of asbestos-related diseases and illnesses will require extensive exposure to asbestos, the fact remains that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The occupations where people are at the greatest risk of exposure to past asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestos factory workers - factories where workers were making products containing asbestos, such as building materials, are at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.
  • Construction workers - given that asbestos was used in building and construction until the mid 1980s in Australia, there is a risk of people developing asbestos-related diseases even today. Certain construction workers such as stone bench cutters may also be at risk from another lung disease, silicosis.
  • Firefighters - you only have to look at the incidence of asbestos-related illness in firefighters who attended the 9/11 twin towers bombing attacks to see the devastating impact that exposure to asbestos can have — and firefighters in Australia are just as exposed due to the housing construction materials used in the past.
  • Boiler workers - for much of the 20th century boilers contained a large amount of asbestos and this created a huge health risk for boiler workers.
  • Power plant workers - electricians and those who worked at power plants were exposed to asbestos through the wires and cabling which used asbestos as insulation.
  • Vehicle mechanics - while asbestos was banned as a construction material, it was still used in brake components until 31 December 2003 which poses a huge risk to mechanics in some cases.
  • Cement plant workers - asbestos cement, known as fibro, was once the go-to building material and the factories where fibro was made were huge sites for exposure.

It is important to note that even today construction workers can be exposed to asbestos when undertaking construction work, with risks especially prevalent among people who engage in demolition work.

Who can claim asbestos exposure compensation?

If you have been exposed to asbestos in any way through work or your home environment then you may be eligible to claim compensation. People may be exposed to asbestos:

  • In the workplace, say through building or factory work, construction sites, import and waterside precincts, logistics and trucking industries or excavation works.
  • At home during renovations or other maintenance work.
  • As a result of a negligent landlord failing to fix or make safe exposed asbestos fibres.
  • Through contact with a partner who has been exposed to asbestos, say through washing clothes which contain asbestos dust.

How do I get diagnosed with asbestos exposure?

If you are suffering from the symptoms of asbestos exposure such as breathlessness, tightness in your chest, persistent coughing, and a bluish tinge to the skin then you should go to your doctor as soon as possible. 

Your doctor will likely recommend tests such as X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, biopsies or will drain fluid from your lungs to determine the diagnosis.  

Asbestosis generally worsens over time, and you may have to get treatment for breathing and respiration. Your doctor will discuss your options with you if you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition.    

What type of Asbestos Claims can be made?

If your asbestos-related condition was caused through the workplace then you will likely be able to make a workers’ compensation claim for statutory entitlements (a ‘statutory claim’).  The entitlements are for your current lost income and medical expenses.  A lump sum payment (usually a large sum) is ordinarily payable too. 

A ‘common law’ claim (a claim in negligence where damages are assessed based on your individual circumstances and needs) can also be made against the employer(s) who exposed you to the asbestos.  Workcover typically insure the employer and will be responsible for making payment.  

If your asbestos-related condition was caused elsewhere (for example, if you were self-employed or from home renovations and so on) you would have a common law claim against the manufacturer of the asbestos product(s). 

It is possible and in fact is likely that you will have an entitlement to bring a common law claim against both the employer and the asbestos manufacturer for work-related exposure.  

How much are asbestos claims worth?

A claim for compensation for asbestos exposure will take into account any loss due to pain and suffering, care received by others (even if you did not pay for the care), medical expenses, and any loss of earnings.

While every claim is different, the 2005 Australian Government liabilities for asbestos claims were estimated at $0.9 billion over the next 50 years. The individual awards are generally in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars (and sometimes much more).   The workers and people expected to claim include former waterside workers, contractors and subcontractors, naval officers, tenants of Australian Government owned and/or constructed premises, family members who were exposed to asbestos through contaminated clothing, and dependents of any person in these categories.

Our experienced personal injury claim lawyers can help you understand what will take place in an asbestos-related claim and discuss your options moving forward.

Are there time limits to asbestos claims?

Each State and Territory have their own unique legislation dealing with the time limitations in which you can bring a valid claim.  That’s why it’s important to speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to identify the time limits for your circumstances.

In Queensland, if there is a work-related exposure to asbestos involved then you have six months from the time of being diagnosed with asbestos-related health issues to lodge a claim with Workcover for a statutory benefits claim. 

A common law claim based in Queensland has no time limit for bringing a common law claim.  However, it is usually wise to seek early advice to be safe.

Whichever jurisdiction you are in, legal proceedings for an asbestos claim must be lodged within the lifetime of the asbestos-disease sufferer. Otherwise, rights can be lost. Family members can receive the benefit of the claim (that is, the compensation) after the sufferer has died, so long as the claim was commenced prior to their death.

Because asbestos-related diseases can advance relatively quickly, it is important that you seek legal advice as soon as you can.

What happens if you are a smoker?

Being a smoker does not exclude your entitlement to bring  a claim for asbestos-related claims. 

In fact, exposure to asbestos products can actually increase the risk of lung cancers.

What happens if your employer no longer exists?

Because asbestos exposures usually took place many decades ago it is quite common for employers to no longer be in business.  That does not prevent a claim.  The claim proceeds against Workcover in most instances anyway.  Proof of employment (whatever form that takes e.g. payslips, contracts, letters of engagement, PAG statements, awards from employers, statements from co-workers, photographs in the workplace and so on) is an important part of the preparations though.   

An expert asbestos lawyer will be able to help you compile the necessary evidence.  

What happens if you were self-employed or a contractor?

A claim can still be made against the asbestos product manufacturer.  It doesn’t matter if you were self-employed or were working as a contractor.

How long do asbestos disease claims take?

A claim for asbestos disease can take some time, because evidence is needed about exposure to asbestos and other relevant lifestyle factors. A claim will include getting affidavit evidence from the sufferer and will also involve making an assessment of the impact the disease has had on their life and their loved ones.

Generally speaking though, claims usually take about 6-9 months to resolve.

Claims can be fast-tracked if the person’s health is rapidly deteriorating.

How involved do you need to be?

We acknowledge that there is no cure for asbestos diseases and your focus will be on health and family.  We respect that you may not wish to have a great deal to do with the legal side of your matter. We can assist you in this and will manage everything as much as we can without your involvement. At some key moments we will need your input but we try to limit that to a minimum.  We encourage you to discuss this with us during an obligation-free discussion with our legal services team.

Asbestos Death Compensation

If your spouse or partner has passed away due to asbestos related disease you may still have entitlement to compensation. When it comes to personal injury law firms, you can rely on Murphy’s Law to provide legal services with respect and the utmost attention to detail. We are experienced in asbestos litigation and help bring about the best financial outcome possible in the most efficient way we can. 

Contact us today for our legal services and find out more about how we can help you on a no win no fee basis with your asbestos disease and injury claim.

Posted by Chris McManus Principal

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Disclaimer: Please note, this content is designed as general information only and does not constitute legal advice. While we make every effort to fact check and keep items up to date, legislation may change from time to time. For advice on your specific situation then please contact us.
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