Leicester man seeks to warn others of the risks of asbestos exposure
A Leicester man left ‘devastated’ after doctors told him he has just months to live following a diagnosis of asbestos related cancer, has joined with legal experts to warn of the dangers of the substance ahead of the 20th anniversary of the ban on white asbestos in 1999.
Stephen Beighton, 62, from Leicester was diagnosed with a collapsed lung and pneumonia on 1 March 2019. After five weeks in hospital he was given the all clear and discharged. Continued breathlessness led to further investigations, but nothing could have prepared Stephen for the diagnosis that was to follow at an outpatient appointment on 16 April.
Stephen Beighton said: “My appointment date was brought forward by a week and I thought nothing about it at the time. My 9 year old granddaughter was with me and she came to the hospital with me.
“I had no idea of the bombshell that awaited me, namely to be diagnosed with a malignant mesothelioma of the pleura. My surgeon told me that I had mesothelioma. He said that without surgery and further treatment, I had 6-12 months to live. This was devastating news for me and I was not prepared for it, but the hospital and staff were brilliant and looked after me really well.”
In May Stephen underwent major thoracic surgery to attempt to strip away the cancer from the lung lining. He hopes that this major surgery, which required a 10 day hospital stay, will ‘buy him time’.
The doctors explained to Stephen this was a cancer of the lung lining, usually caused by asbestos exposure. Now, Stephen is working with asbestos related disease experts from Irwin Mitchell to determine how he was exposed to the substance and to warn others of the dangers.
Stephen says his main encounter with asbestos occurred during 1973-1978 while working as a wood machinist for EE Smith Limited, a large firm of bar fitters based on Oakland Road, Leicester still trading as EE Contracts.
Stephen would cut timber or asbestos sheets to the required size, as they regularly used asbestos sheets (or ‘assie’ as the workers called them) as fire prevention material – usually sandwiched between timber or chipboard. It was also part of Stephen’s job to check when the waste container was full and wheel it out into the yard.
Stephen said: “I was just a young lad at the time, aged 16-20. I had no idea that cutting the asbestos sheets was dangerous to my health.”
“There was no avoiding the dust in the working environment of the workshop and particularly around the bench saw, thicknesser and planer. When it was an ‘asbestos sandwich’ that was being created, I would first of all cut the timber and the asbestos sheets to size and then pass the cut timber onto the men to bond the layers together with glue and then the next day it would come back to me to cut off the ends of the asbestos/plywood sandwich.”
Stephen said: “I am only 62 years of age and I expected to have many more years ahead of me to enjoy seeing my children and grandchildren grow up. I try to remain positive and upbeat and hope that when I have recovered from surgery, I can consider travelling around Europe.”
Expert Opinion“Stephen’s story is another example of the long period of time that can pass from initial asbestos exposure to the development of mesothelioma.
Twenty years on since the asbestos ban, it is easy to forget that it remains present in many public buildings, homes, schools and hospitals.
We know the devastating impact industrial exposure has had on people like Stephen but with the long latency period from initial exposure to the onset of symptoms, we have yet to see how effective the ban was in cutting the number of asbestos related disease cases.
By warning people of the ongoing risk posed by asbestos, the hope is we will finally see a decline in the numbers of people who continue to develop asbestos related diseases.” Simone Hardy - Senior Associate Solicitor