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Family Receives Compensation For Asbestos Death As Memorial Day Remembers Worker Fatalities

A day of remembering those who died from industrial illness


The widow of a retired Birmingham worker who died from an asbestos related cancer has spoken out about the industrial illness which claimed her husband’s life.

Raymond Keen from Smiths Wood in Birmingham was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2006 at the age of 66, his symptoms having developed in November 2005.  Mr Keen fought the terminal cancer which affects the lining of the chest, but tragically passed away only three weeks later in April 2006.

It was discovered that Mr Keen had been exposed to asbestos by his former employer Unilock Limited, later known as Transplastix Ltd.

His widow, Janet, aged 69, who has now received a six figure compensation settlement, has backed calls for greater protection for workers, as part of International Workers Memorial Day on Tuesday 28th April.

She said: "Ray had always been a fit and active man. He was still working at the age of 66 and had planned to work well into his 70s.  His diagnosis came as a huge blow to us all. We had been married for 47 years and it was terrible watching Ray change, from being such a fit and healthy person who loved his gardening, DIY and helping his three children with jobs around the home, to a shadow of his former self in the space of just a few months.

"After he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he lived just six months and in that time he was in a great deal of pain which the doctors had to fight to control.

"Its hard to deal with the fact that my husband died as a result of a workplace illness which was totally avoidable."

Mr Keen worked for Unilock Ltd as a partitioner between 1972 and 1980 where he was exposed to asbestos whilst cutting asbestos boards to fit into the partitioned walls.

Crawley-based Unilock Ltd, ceased trading in August 2008 and court proceedings were issued against the defendants’ insurers Zurich in March 2009. However, in April 2009 the insurers agreed to settle the claim out of court by agreeing to make a six-figure payment to Mr Keen’s widow, Janet, aged 69.

Iain Shoolbred, a Solicitor at law firm Irwin Mitchell, who handled Mr Keen’s claim, said: “Like so many tragic workplace illnesses, this case is not just about financial recompense but about obtaining justice. Worker’s Memorial Day is a time for reflection, to remember those workers, like Raymond, who have been killed through simply trying to earn a living.

"It is also a time to highlight safety in a bid to prevent any further needless deaths through workplace accidents or illness. Most of these deaths could easily have been prevented – at least 70% according to the HSE – and employers need to be made more accountable for their failures."

International Workers Memorial Day is an annual event when trade unions from all over the world "Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living."

West Midlands’ workers who have been killed or injured at work will be remembered at a series of wreath laying ceremonies on Tuesday 28th April, in Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry and Walsall. The events are jointly organised by the Trades Union Council, in conjunction with the Hazards Trust.