Shop worker's widower compensated

Posted: 7th May 2013

MaskThe husband of a former Woolworths employee who died of an asbestos-related disease in 2010 has won compensation from the defunct retailer’s insurers.

Betty Westhead had worked at the Woolworths shop in Durham for 35 years, until 1982, and it was alleged that she was exposed to asbestos during this period. The exposure was thought to have happened when the premises were refurbished in the 1960s and also in the course of her everyday work. When she began working there, Woolworths sold items that contained asbestos, such as worktops and ironing boards.

Mrs Westhead was healthy until 17 years after she left Woolworths. In the autumn of 2009, she developed breathing problems and was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease most often attacks the outer lining of the lungs. Symptoms may not appear until 30 to 50 years after exposure and, by the time someone goes to their doctor, the cancer is very often advanced. Most victims do not live more than one to two years after mesothelioma is diagnosed. Mrs Westhead died in June 2010, aged 78.

Following his wife’s death, Ivor Westhead pursued a claim for compensation. Part of the evidence in support of his claim came from a woman who also worked at the store during the relevant period. She recalled that when she unpacked ironing boards for display, dust, now thought to be asbestos, used to stick to her heavily lacquered hair.

Mr Westhead was able to secure a six-figure sum in compensation in an out-of-court settlement.

There are many substances which can cause occupational illness over a period of time, even when the level of exposure is small.. “If employers fail to take appropriate measures to prevent exposure to substances that can damage the health of employees, they can be liable to pay compensation for the resulting illnesses. If you have suffered ill health as a result of exposure to substances in your workplace, contact us for advice.