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Contractors could pay high price for asbestos ruling

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INSURANCE PREMIUMS for construction projects are set to rise following a landmark House of Lords ruling on compensation for workers exposed to asbestos.

The ruling says that workers exposed to asbestos while working for more than one employer are now legally entitled to seek compensation.

Previously, workers had to prove they had contracted asbestos related diseases from a particular named employer.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) warned that contractors may suffer as a result. 'The point we have to bear in mind is that employer liability insurance will go up as a result of this ruling. The fear is that this will set a precedent for all other industrial illnesses, ' said a CECA spokesman. 'The question is - where does this stop? How high can premiums go before they become prohibitive?'

Last year, 5,000 people in the UK died of asbestos related diseases, most from mesothelioma. By 2010, this figure is expected to rise to 10,000. It is estimated that the final cost of the ruling to insurance companies could be as much as £8bn.

The Law Lords examined a test case brought by construction workers' union UCATT on behalf of the widow of construction worker George Fairchild, who died in 1996 after being exposed to asbestos while working for Leeds City Council and card company Waddingtons.

The case centred on the principle of the 'fatal fibre'. In theory, it is possible that mesothelioma can be caused by just one speck of fibre or dust. So if a worker was exposed to asbestos at more than one company, it could be argued that it is not possible to say which was the source of the fatal fibre.

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