“Many people think there is only one type of asbestos that affects them – that all the others are safe – and they are not. There is no asbestos that is safe.”
Jean Doyle, 69, should have been celebrating her golden wedding anniversary this year. But tragically it wasn’t to be. Sadly her husband died three years ago at the age of 67, after being diagnosed with mesothelioma – caused by asbestos.
Dave worked as a joiner all his life and was exposed to asbestos while using the material to make properties fire resistant. Now Jean has joined with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos.
Any building built or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain the deadly substance, and six joiners are still dying every week as a consequence of being exposed to the dust while at work.
Jean, from Poynton in Stockport, remembers how the risks of working with asbestos were unknown when her husband was younger, and she is determined to make sure today’s tradesmen protect themselves by wearing specialist masks.
HSE’s ‘Asbestos, the hidden killer’ campaign aims to tackle the rising number of asbestos-related deaths by educating today’s tradesmen about the risk that asbestos presents to them.
Dave passed away in September 2006 after being married to Jean for 47 years. He had been diagnosed with mesothelioma just eight months earlier, and had gone to his doctor after getting a persistent cough and feeling run down. His wife says he was acting like a man in his nineties and had lost all his energy. Dave was referred to hospital specialists who discovered fluid on his lung. Eventually he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and told he had months to live.
The campaign is close to Jean’s heart as her sons Stephen and David, and grandson Adam have all followed in her husband’s footsteps, and joined the building trade. She is determined that they will not suffer the same fate.
“My grandson is made very aware of health and safety on his Site Joinery apprenticeship at Stockport College. But when Dave started working in the building trade, in the late ’50s, no one ever specified that asbestos was a dangerous product. Many people think that there is only one type of asbestos that affects them – that all the others are safe – and they are not. There is no asbestos that is safe. I don’t care what colour it is. It’s just not safe. Unlike normal dust, when you’re in a dusty room or whatever, you start coughing and it comes up with the mucus. But with asbestos it doesn’t. It penetrates the lung and that’s where all the problems start.”
Jean is urging anyone who works with asbestos to wear proper protective equipment:
“If people don’t wear masks that are suitable for the job they’re doing – not just an ordinary piece of cloth – we’re going to have this problem over and over again. It devastates families and family life. If I hadn’t had my family around me, I don’t know what I’d have done. It’s a nightmare living with mesothelioma – a living nightmare.”
Dave’s final hours are etched on Jean’s memory:
“We were called into a side room at about five o’clock in the evening and the doctor said to us he didn’t expect Dave to survive the next couple of hours. By eight o’clock, he was dead. And that was it. I’ll never forget the blood draining from his face. How do you deal with that?”
The couple first noticed something was wrong while they were on a family holiday. Sadly, it was the last holiday they would spend together.
Jean said: “There were so many things Dave wanted to do. He wanted to travel and see more of the world. We’d booked a holiday to go on a cruise to the Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle but we had to cancel. We wanted to do so much. I remember we got up early one morning and we were talking about planning different things he wanted to do. He wanted to travel the length of Britain on the railway. So I said, right, well get yourself better and that’s what we’ll do. But we never did.”
Thousands of people are dying every year from asbestos-related diseases. Jean hopes the HSE ‘Asbestos, the hidden killer’ campaign will help bring home the dangers, and help workers realise they could be putting their lives at risk if they don’t take action.