Harland and Wolff asbestos disease claims to hit £150m

Billy Graham said shipyard workers were not told about asbestosis

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Some £150m in compensation is expected to be paid to former Harland and Wolff workers who contracted asbestos-related diseases while working at the shipyard.

More than 2,000 people have been already been paid compensation.

Asbestos was a widely-used insulation material in shipbuilding until the 1970s.

Many workers contracted asbestos-related diseases after they were exposed to its fibres.

The legacy of the once government-owned Belfast shipyard is still causing misery for thousands of former workers.

To date more than 2,000 former workers, relatives and contractors who worked in the yard before it was privatised in 1989 have successfully claimed for compensation at a cost of £60m. That is an average of £30,000 each.

Billy Graham from east Belfast, who worked in ship repair in the yard for 20 years, is one of the former workers who was awarded compensation.

Range of diseases

He said: "We were told nothing about asbestosis. When you were working with old boilers, there was an asbestos ring around them, and we just pulled them off and the dust was flying everywhere.

Eddie Harvey Eddie Harvey's wife died aged 65 after inhaling asbestos fibres from his work clothes

"It's a big shock when you are told you have a mild form of asbestosis. It does not get any better. It affects you that you can't walk. You can't do certain things. You can't play with the grandkids the way you used to. You are just beat."

The former employees are suffering from a range of diseases including asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural plaques and lung cancer.

It is not just shipyard workers who were affected. In some cases there was "secondary contamination" - where people close to the those working in the yard contracted an asbestos-related disease.

East Belfast man Eddie Harvey worked in the yard for 20 years. His wife Margaret died in December 2008, aged 65, from fibres she breathed in while washing his work clothes.

Start Quote

I lost my wife to it, through washing my clothes. She couldn't breathe in the end. She was in and out of hospital for three years and tried to fight it. She went from being 12 stone to a frail old woman of maybe five stone.”

End Quote Eddie Harvey Former Harland and Wolff worker
'Couldn't breathe'

Mr Harvey urged anyone who has been affected by asbestos in the shipyard to claim against the Stormont Executive.

"I lost my wife to it, through washing my clothes. She couldn't breathe in the end. She was in and out of hospital for three years and tried to fight it. She went from being 12 stone to a frail old woman of maybe five stone.

"Anyone who has it, make no mistake, they should go and claim because the government says the money is there.

"Don't be afraid to. The government is not going to give you money if you are not entitled to it."

The Department of Enterprise (DETI) at Stormont estimates it will pay out another £89m for claims by people who have yet to be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. It expects the claims to continue up until 2040 - some 50 years after the government sold the shipyard into private ownership.

After the privatisation DETI retained control of Harland and Wolff PLC, which includes the liabilities for asbestos-related diseases contracted by former workers.

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