Information Sought On South Wales Dad’s 24 Years At Spencer Works
The daughter of a former South Wales steelworker is appealing to her dad’s old workmates for information following his death from asbestos-related cancer.
Michael Burns, from Bettws, Newport died from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with exposure to asbestos, often decades previously.
Following his diagnosis, Michael had instructed specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and whether his exposure was linked to his work history. However, he died aged 84, before his case could be concluded.
With Michael’s wife Eimer Burns, 87, in poor health and living in residential care, his daughter Jackie Harris, 58, is now continuing her father’s search for answers in his memory.
Ahead of this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day on Friday, 28 April, Jackie has now joined with the legal team to appeal for any of her dad’s old workmates to come forward with information on the working conditions he would have faced.
Michael worked as a cleaner at Llanwern Steelworks, also known as Spencer Works, just outside of Newport, from 1973 to 1997.
Expert Opinion“Michael’s death has left his family in a state of shock. Not only is his death another reminder of the terrible legacy asbestos has created in South Wales, Michael was also a full-time carer for his wife Eimer, meaning she had to be moved into residential care following Michael’s death.
“Nothing can bring Michael back, but we’re determined to support his family and daughter Jackie in their search for answers concerning his asbestos exposure.
“The steelworks put Llanwern on the map, providing thousands of jobs, which brought in workers from as far as Scotland.
“The men and women who worked at the steelworks during the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated great camaraderie to each other and pride in their hard work. It is this sense of dedication Jackie is appealing to in the hope of finding out more about Michael’s work history.
“Over Michael’s 24 years at the steelworks, he worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues. We encourage anyone who worked at Llanwern Steelworks to come forward and help provide Jackie and her mum with the answers they deserve in Michael’s memory.” Isabelle Selley - Senior Associate Solicitor
Opened in 1962, Llanwern Steelworks was run by Richard, Thomas and Baldwins Ltd. Also known as the Spencer Works, the site became one of the top five steel centres in Britain. By the late 1970s it employed between 4,500 and 9,200 workers. The site, now known as Llanwern Works and owned by TATA Steel, still produces strip steel for UK and European markets through its pickle line and cold mill.
Prior to his death, Michael told his family he spent most of his time working in the bunker in the sinter plant, which contained iron ore. Michael said the plant was known as the dirtiest place in the steelworks. Michael’s role involved cleaning the metal conveyer belt that ran from the start of the steelworks up to the furnace. This involved dislodging blockages near the ‘crushers’ that released huge amounts of dust as they were cleared.
One of Michael’s more dangerous jobs was to go down into the thousand tonne concrete bunker to clean it. Performed with the aid of three other men for safety, Michael had to descend a 50ft rope ladder, followed by a 16ft aluminium ladder to access the bunker.
The dust in the bunker was so bad, he couldn’t see the man next to him and Michael recalled the vibration from tools they used would dislodge fire proofing material from above, which Michael believed may have contained asbestos. There were pipes running throughout the plants, all of which Michael said were asbestos-lagged.
Michael and his wife Eimer married on Boxing Day 1961 and had two children together, Robert, 59 and daughter Jackie 58, both of whom now live abroad.
Michael and Eimer enjoyed holidaying abroad and visiting family. They have 6 Grand children.
Up until his mesothelioma diagnosis, Michael had always been fit and enjoyed an active retirement, which had included visiting his daughter Jackie in Australia. He was acting as his wife’s full-time carer, following Eimer’s diagnosis with lung cancer and dementia in 2022.
In June 2022, a family member who is a nurse, noticed Michael had lost weight and was becoming tired easily, which he had not noticed himself. Three months later, he noticed the increased breathlessness when climbing the stairs at home and also struggling to stand for long and decided to visit his GP. Following a biopsy, Michael was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2022. He died on 28 January 2023.
Jackie said: “A few months on from dad’s death, we’re all still coming to terms with the fact he’s gone. He was such a fit and active man for his age that the cancer diagnosis came as a shock to all of us. The speed of his decline was even more of a shock.
“Dad had become mum’s full-time carer and with me and Robert living abroad, you feel so powerless to do anything about it. He’d come over to visit me and seemed in great spirits, which makes his passing so difficult to accept and leaves mum on her own. The two were really inseparable.
“Dad worked hard his whole life and he and mum didn’t deserve for things to turn out this way. Dad told us about his work in the steelworks but if anyone who worked with dad or has information about the plant at the time could come forward, mum and I would really appreciate it.
“We know nothing can bring him back but information could mean we at least get to honour his last wishes by finding out how he was exposed to asbestos.”
Anyone who remembers the factory or has any information that may assist Jackie in establishing how Michael may have come into contact with asbestos at Llanwern Steelworks should contact Isabelle Selley on 0117 926 1522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, contact Tony Roberts on 02380 930 745 or email email@example.com
Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April remembers those who have died as a result of their employment, and campaigns to improve health and safety standards in the workplace and increase protection for employees.