Asbestos victim appeals for help from Irlam’s former steelworkers

Posted: 16th Mar 20 8:00 AM

After being told he has a crippling asbestos-related lung disease a former Irlam steelworker is asking ex-colleagues from the Lancashire Steel Corporation and the British Steel Corporation for help.

David Wilkinson, from Irlam, has been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening, a serious lung condition caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. As well as severe breathlessness, a sufferer can develop a debilitating cough, tiredness and weight loss.

Birchall Blackburn Law and the National Asbestos Helpline are helping Mr Wilkinson and his family to make an industrial disease compensation claim to support his growing care needs. To do this the 72-year-old great grandfather is appealing to former steelworkers to talk about the working conditions and the presence of asbestos at the Irlam Steelworks during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

David Wilkinson 1976Mr Wilkinson started working at Irlam Steelworks at the age of about 20 as a labourer and then a ‘spare hand’ for the ‘gangs’ who operated the furnaces. He particularly remembers the furnace shutdowns and maintenance when the furnace lining would be stripped out and repaired. It would take 24-hour shifts over a six-week period to finish the job.

Mr Wilkinson says: “Removal of the lining from the furnace generated an enormous amount of dust. It could be seen billowing out of the holes the men used to access the furnace. There was a change in the smell and taste of the air when the furnace was shut down and this work was taking place. I could see the dust floating around me. Cranes were used to lift the skips full of debris and transport them to the rail track. When the cranes lifted the skips, dust and debris fell out and showered around me.

David Wilkinson 2018“I was provided with a Martindale mask. It was not very effective, it was just a cotton mask with an elastic band to fix it in place. There was no warnings about the dangers of asbestos.”

The diffuse pleural thickening in Mr Wilkinson’s lungs means he can barely walk 100 yards before he is out-of-breath. Just getting dressed or standing at the cooker leaves him breathless and fatigued.

Diffuse pleural thickening refers to the thickening of the lining of the lung, called the pleura, which is a thin layer that covers the inside of the rib cage and the outside of the lungs.

Ronan Kennedy, an industrial disease specialist lawyer with Birchall Blackburn Law, says:

“Pleural thickening takes decades to develop and after such a long time it can be difficult to uncover the evidence needed to prove where and when exposure to asbestos dust occurred. For Mr Wilkinson to get the support he needs and is owed we need the help of anyone who worked for the Lancashire Steel Corporation and the British Steel Corporation at the Irlam site during the 60s and 70s. Did you work alongside Mr Wilkinson? What were the conditions like? Can you remember the furnace shutdowns? Where was asbestos present?”

Jan Garvey, from the National Asbestos Helpline, says: “Pleural thickening is a cruel and restrictive lung condition. To suffer such a severe deterioration in your health when you’re supposed to be enjoying retirement must be heart breaking. Asbestos is devastating a generation of working people who face terrible illnesses. More needs to be done to help people impacted by asbestos.”

The first steelworks in Irlam opened in 1910 and was a major employer in the area for most of the 20th century. By 1979 steel production had stopped in Irlam and the site is now home to the Northbank Industrial Estate.

Anyone who has information about the working conditions and asbestos at Irlam Steelworks during the 60s and 70s, please call Ronan Kennedy from Birchall Blackburn Law on 01244 684 471 or Jan Garvey at the National Asbestos Helpline on Freephone 0800 043 6635. Alternatively, email enquiries@birchallblackburn.co.uk. Your details will remain confidential.

For more information and help about diffuse pleural thickening or other asbestos-related diseases go to www.nationalasbestos.co.uk.

For free legal advice call the National Asbestos Helpline on Freephone 0800 043 6635 or contact us online and we will call you.

Further reading

How can compensation for asbestos disease help?

What do I tell my GP if I am worried about asbestos exposure?

What is the asbestos compensation claims process? – Infographic

Practical information