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Former Heating Engineer In Battle For Justice After Contracting Asbestos Related Cancer

Father of Two Exposed To Substance While Replacing School Boilers


A former heating engineer suffering from mesothelioma is appealing for his former workmates to come forward to help lawyers investigate his exposure to asbestos during a project to replace boilers in schools across the North East.

Charles William Harmston (Charlie), 71, was diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer in October 2012 and he believes he was exposed to the deadly dust during his time working for E Dixon Barker & Son Ltd, based initially in Hartlepool and later in Middlesbrough.

He has instructed industrial illness experts at law firm Irwin Mitchell to help in his battle for justice as he was never warned about the dangers of asbestos or given protective clothing or equipment. He is now asking former work colleagues to help provide lawyers with information on the working conditions he faced.

Charles, from Peterlee, believes that he was exposed to asbestos during the 1970s when E Dixon Barker & Son worked to replace solid fuel boilers in schools as part of a Durham City Council programme. The father-of-two had to remove the old boilers and pipework in order to replace them and they would often be heavily lagged with asbestos.

Charles said: “Taking out the old boiler was a pretty tricky process and the asbestos-lagging was often stuck to the equipment and pipework because it had been in place for years. We had to use chisels and hammers to remove it in pieces and the more we smashed the asbestos up, the more the dust was thrown up into the air.

“It was almost like snow and after finishing work for the day, our clothes would be covered in a thick, white layer of the stuff. It would even get in our hair and up our noses – I was forever blowing my nose at work.

“At first we tried spraying the boilers with water to reduce the dust, but we stopped this as it made the floor slippery and we were concerned about it being dangerous. We had no idea that the dust was an even bigger health and safety concern and that it was doing us significant harm.”

He says E Dixon Barker & Son never provided him with dust masks or equipment to stop him breathing in the asbestos dust and he was not warned about the dangers by his employers.

Speaking about his diagnosis, Charles said: “It has been hard to take and the effects of mesothelioma are starting to affect my quality of life. I used to enjoy doing the gardening at home but now I feel so short of breath and tired that I can’t even enjoy doing something simple like that.”

Roger Maddocks, an industrial illness expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell representing him, said: “Asbestos is the biggest occupational killer of all time and unfortunately mesothelioma remains an incurable form of cancer. However, the dangers of asbestos have been known for many years and Charles’s employer should have done more to prevent his exposure to the deadly dust.

“It’s unacceptable that anyone should be left with a fatal illness because their health was not protected at work. Charles worked hard for E Dixon Barker & Son for many years and now 26 years after leaving the company he has fallen ill because they failed to protect him.

“We are keen to speak to anybody who worked at E Dixon Barker & Son in the 1970s as their information could be helpful in helping Charles with his battle for justice against his former employer.”

If you have any information on the company mentioned please contact Roger Maddocks on 0191 279 0095 or email Roger.Maddocks@IrwinMitchell.com.

If you or a loved one has been affected by an asbestos related illness, our solicitors can help you to claim compensation. See our Asbestos Claims page for more information.