First asbestosis death registered 100 years ago

100 years ago today, on 14 March 1924, Nellie Kershaw, aged 33, passed away from asbestos exposure. This was the first ever recorded case of asbestosis.

Nellie was an English textile worker from Rochdale, working as a spinner at Turner Brothers Asbestos company, a factory that produced asbestos cloth. It was here that she was exposed to asbestos dust. The microscopic fibres embedded themselves in her lungs, leaving a scar that ended up being fatal.

Her death, due to pulmonary asbestosis was the first such case to be described in medical literature, and the first published account of disease attributed to occupational asbestos exposure.

Her employers accepted no liability for her injuries, paid no compensation to her bereaved family and refused to contribute towards funeral expenses. She was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The subsequent inquiries into her death led to the publication of the first Asbestos Industry Regulations in 1931.

Mesothelioma UK would like to mark this day and remember Nellie as we continue to do all that we can to prevent future deaths from asbestos.

The impact of asbestos now

Today, asbestos is estimated to kill more than 200,000 people per year globally and exposure to asbestos is responsible for nine out of ten mesothelioma cases.

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK each year, as more than 5,000 people die from asbestos-related cancers. More than half of those deaths are from mesothelioma.

Government response to Committee recommendations

In 2022, the Work and Pensions Committee recommended the creation of a central digital register of asbestos and a commitment to the phased removal of asbestos over the next 40 years, prioritising schools and hospitals.

However, in their response to the report, the UK Government did not accept the recommendation of a deadline for disposal or a central register, arguing existing legislation is adequate, and that a register would lead to extra work and duplication for those with a duty to manage asbestos.

We’re committed to not letting the dust settle

Mesothelioma UK’s launched its Don’t Let the Dust Settle campaign in 2023 to focus on calling time on asbestos by raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.

Despite the Government response, the campaign will continue to demand that the two key recommendations of the enquiry into the management of asbestos are heeded.

March 14, 2024

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