Asbestos was, at the time, the ideal substance to use for fire prevention in industries like the railways, due to its very high boiling and melting point.
Asbestos was commonly used in the railway industry for lagging and insulation around boilers and central heating pipes. In the railway industry, it was also frequently used during the construction of locomotives, before the deadly toxic dangers of asbestos exposure were realised. Asbestos was also extensively used to lag the boilers of engines on steam trains, packing in piston cylinders, brake pads, station buildings, signal boxes, depots, and offices. Asbestos string was used to stop leaks in steam in pipe work, and asbestos cement was used to build corrugated roofing, and water pipes right up until 1999. Old rolling stock, built prior to 1980, will have had asbestos removed from accessible areas, but heritage trains, such as steam locomotives, or carriages in museums, will still have asbestos lurking somewhere in their construction, as they would never have been overhauled once they were taken out of normal everyday service.
The huge extent of asbestos use in the railway industry inevitably meant that railway workers in the 1950s and 1960s were regularly handling sackfuls of asbestos used to build carriages and cooking facilities. The workers describe unloading, and transporting, the asbestos in hessian sacks, which were inevitably dropped, and spilt, leaving asbestos dust over the workers floors. The workers had to sweep this dust up at the end of the day, every day, therefore breathing in more and more of the toxic dust. They then, unknowingly, transferred it home on their uniforms, to contaminate the air and materials around their wives and children too. Asbestos was also used in pre-fabricated insulation, insulation boards, ropes, and inside pipes too.
Later on, blue asbestos sprays were used to insulate entire train carriages, and it was generally the job of the young apprentices to spray the interiors. In the process, they must have inhaled substantial amounts of toxic fumes from the sprays, and now the evidence shows that it’s had a devastating effect on their later lives, and the health of their families too.
Ex-railway workers, who think they may have worked with asbestos containing materials, throughout their careers with the industry, should consider contacting Simpson Millar for advice. Call us on 0800 634 1626 for more information, as you may be eligible for compensation from your former employers.