History Of Asbestos In The United Kingdom

It took almost a decade for asbestos to be banned in the UK. Here you can find the history of asbestos in the UK and the long process it took to finally have its use banned and provide compensation to those affected.

The history of asbestos in the United Kingdom.


Dr Montague Murray gives evidence to the Departmental Committee on Industrial Diseases of the death of a man from an asbestos related condition.

1924 – Nellie Kershaw’s Death

The first reported medical case of an asbestos related death due to asbestosis. Nellie Kershaw from Rochdale had worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos as a rover spinner.

1928 The Government Factory Inspectors Report

The Government Factory Inspectors Report in 1928 noted cases involving asbestos exposure causing pulmonary fibrosis (asbestosis).

Factory workers with asbestos sheets

1931 to 1961- The Asbestos Industry Regulations of 1931 & 1961

By 1930, the Merewether and Price government-commissioned report researched the state of health of those who worked directly with asbestos. This report clearly linked chronic exposure to high concentrations of asbestos to asbestosis. By the following year, the Asbestos Industry Regulations mandated controlling asbestos dust measures in factory settings. Seven years after the Kershaw report, The Asbestos Industry Regulations became the first piece of legislation to be dedicated to controlling asbestos use within factories in any industrialised country.

While exhaust ventilation and clean workrooms were now requirements in asbestos textile shops, industries that produced insulation, plumbing, shipbuilding and more were not covered. Until The Factories Act of 1961, the 1931 regulations determined much of the industry rules. While a step in the right direction, these laws did not prevent the deaths of thousands of British citizens. The Factories Act of 1961, implemented in 1969, finally protected workers in all industries. It required controls on levels of asbestos dust in workplaces.

The Asbestos Regulations of 1961 invalidated many of the 1931 regulations and required employers to provide safe workplaces for all of its workers. Exposure to each asbestos-based product and process required proper exhaust, personal protective equipment and regular cleaning with updated methods.

1938 – The Factory Inspectors Annual Report of 1938

The Factory Inspectors Annual Report of 1938 published in July 1939 commented “There can be no doubt that dust, if inhaled, is physiologically undesirable. Moreover dust that is thought today to be harmless may, following research, be viewed in another light to-morrow. It is not many years ago when the dust of asbestos was regarded as innocuous while to-day it is recognised as highly dangerous.”

1952 – Nora Dockerty

Nora Dockerty’s family were the first in the UK to receive compensation for her death from an asbestos related disease. Nora had worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 ½ years. Nellie Kershaw who had died in 1924 had worked at the same company.

Nora Dockerty

1970 – The Voluntary Asbestos Import Ban of 1970

In 1967, after the first personal injury claim related to negligent asbestos exposure was won, government and industry professionals quickly developed a voluntary asbestos ban. To appease public demand (court cases and compensation were bad for business), blue asbestos became a major scapegoat for asbestos-related illnesses.

Blue asbestos was mined in South Africa and Western Australia by a non-British company and made up just 3% of the total world production. What’s more, this 1970 decision did not ban the import of blue asbestos products. It is safe to say that the first Voluntary Asbestos Import Ban did little more than placate the public.

1974 – Health and Safety at Work Act

This act required employers to protect employees from health risks, as well as give appropriate information that could affect their health.

1980 – Voluntary Asbestos Import Ban

Similar to the 1970 voluntary ban, brown asbestos was banned from the United Kingdom, though it only made up around 2% of the market at the time.

1983 – The Asbestos Licensing Regulations

Any contractor who handled asbestos-based insulation and coating were obligated to receive training and registration from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

1985 – The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations

The UK government effectively and officially banned the production and importation of blue and brown asbestos. Asbestos spraying and asbestos insulation were also subsequently banned.

1987 – The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations

Employers were made responsible for the health and safety of their employees, as well as any temporary visitor who could be exposed to asbestos fibres. These regulations also mandated that before any asbestos-based work, the employer was required to determine the type and exposure likelihood. Asbestos awareness training was also a necessity for employees.

1992 – The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations

New levels for chrysotile (white) asbestos were determined. Health records were to be kept for forty years, rather than thirty. Written risk assessments were also deemed mandatory for any asbestos work. 

1992 – The Asbestos Prohibition Regulations

In addition to blue and brown asbestos, all amphiboles were banned. This extended to actinolite and anthophyllite as well. The spraying of all asbestos types were summarily forbidden too.

1999 – The Asbestos Prohibition (Amended) Regulations

Aside from few products (such as automobile brake lines) with lengthened shelf lives, the import, supply and use of ACMs was banned. Clear definitions of what ‘supply’ meant were applied to sale, lease, loan and exchange. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, products were also subsequently outlawed. Automobile ACMs were prohibited within the same year.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2002

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 come into force.

2002 – Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Limited

Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Limited, The House of Lords decided that a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages from any person who had exposed them to asbestos when they could show that the exposure to asbestos had materially increased the risk of them developing mesothelioma as science could not prove when a person had been exposed to asbestos in more than one place, which exposure had caused the mesothelioma

2004 – Maguire v Harland and Wolff

The Court of Appeal decided a shipbuilding company could not have known that a wife washing her husband’s overalls which were covered in asbestos dust in the period 1960 to 1965 would be at risk of developing an asbestos related condition.

2006 – Barker v Corus (U.K) Plc.

The House of Lord’s decided following Fairchild that whilst a mesothelioma sufferer was entitled to damages for mesothelioma, where the sufferer had been exposed to asbestos with more than one person, each person only had to pay their share and not 100 % of the damages. This meant if a mesothelioma sufferer could not trace all the people who had exposed him or her to asbestos or their insurers then they would not receive full compensation.

2006 – Control of Asbestos regulation 2006

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 come into force

2007 – The pleural plaques test cases

Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd – The House of Lords decided that pleural plaques were not compensatable.


The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2008 came into force. This allowed anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma who was exposed to asbestos in the UK to receive a one off lump sum payment from the Government.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 came into force on 6 April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission’s view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).

2014 – The Mesothelioma Act 2014

The Mesothelioma Act 2014 gave the Government the power to establish The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme 2014. This scheme makes damages payments to those who have developed mesothelioma from being wrongly exposed to asbestos at work but their employer no longer exists and no insurer has been found.

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