The issues surrounding asbestos in the UK are becoming more important, socially, legally and politically, warns Michael Cook.

Although there is no argument against the more serious conditions caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma, pleural plaques are dominating the headlines at present. Since the UK’s House of Lords ruled the existence of pleural plaques was not an injury and therefore not compensatable, there has been a constant barrage to the decision overturned.

A Bill has already been introduced into the Scottish parliament to provide compensation for those with pleural plaques north of the border – but the issue is a political “hot potato” down south with trade unions lobbying MPs.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, the construction workers’ union, said the government must have the courage to reverse the decision and reinstate the right of those suffering from pleural plaques to receive compensation, while Graham Goddard, deputy general secretary of Unite, said: “Employers’ insurers want to walk away leaving workers, whose lungs are now full of asbestos, facing a lifetime of worry and not a penny in compensation.”

With this level of pressure, are the politicians once again going to change the law to over-rule a court decision? There is recent precedent related to asbestos claims where the government introduced new legislation to effectively overturn the House of Lords.

The government, some suspect, will seek alternative means to compensate workers given a diagnosis of pleural plaques. Though it is unlikely to reverse the Lords ruling, time will tell if the line between the politicians and judges will again be crossed.

Michael Cook is a director of Navigant Consulting.

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