Business reaped “huge financial rewards” while subjecting workers to asbestos

6th January 2015

One of the UK’s largest companies in the 1960s knowingly exposed its employees to deadly asbestos while reaping huge financial rewards, according to declassified government files.

Turner and Newall, based in Ballycare, Northern Ireland, used a PR firm to play down the health risks that exposure to asbestos can induce, such as mesothelioma. Twenty year old files released from Belfast’s Public Records Office also show that the firm placed huge pressure on government officials to use its products for government contracts, reports.

In the files, an unidentified official expressed his concern, stating that the government was “well aware of the problems which arose in the past” with its product. However, the following month another unidentified official signed the contracts for asbestos cladding in Ministry of Commerce factories, stating he had been “impressed” by the argument presented by a Turner and Newall employee known as Mr Elser.

A memo outlining the government’s use of asbestos since 1947 states: “In view of the increasing concern about the application of asbestos in buildings it would be advisable to consider ways of reducing its use to a minimum, particularly the amount of exposed surface area in the building.”

A 1985 memo from John Caldwell at the Industrial Development Board (IDB) states that asbestos cladding in factories was “a dangerous and sensitive matter”, and that the IDB risked negative publicity if it did not appear conscientious.

Turner and Newall’s Turners Asbestos Cement Co Ltd was inundated with multi-million pound compensation claims for asbestos exposure and finally went into administration in October 2001.

Approximately 4,000 people die from asbestos-related causes every year. The material has been banned in the UK since 1999, but the dangers of asbestos are often not seen until decades after exposure, notes.