The case of an 81-year-old man diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer after working as a manager at a commercial laundry in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is a tragic reminder that the legacy of asbestos continues to haunt Australia’s older workers.
George Feilner, who is ill with the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma, has just resolved a claim against his former employer Prince’s Laundry, and against asbestos-product manufacturer James Hardie. He was awarded a confidential sum after a period between 1967 to 1980 where he was exposed to asbestos at the laundry, working in and managing several of Prince’s sites throughout Melbourne including Glenferrie, Boronia and Vermont South.
Mr Feilner was exposed to asbestos insulation products manufactured by James Hardie when he was around maintenance workers completing repairs to the steam pipes at this employer’s premises. His work required him to perform minor repairs and sweep up asbestos debris. James Hardie had disputed it manufactured the asbestos insulation involved, but the matter was resolved after evidence was produced during a four-day trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Mr Feilner’s lawyer, Slater and Gordon asbestos lawyer Suzanne Sandford, said he was never given any warning from his employer, or James Hardie, about the dangers of asbestos fibres, nor was he ever provided with protective masks or breathing devices.
“Working around maintenance staff conducting repair work, and undertaking some repairs himself with asbestos insulation, meant Mr Feilner was exposed to, and inhaled asbestos fibres and dust as part of his work at Prince’s Laundry,” Ms Sandford said.
“Prince’s Laundry was aware – or should have been aware – of the dangers of asbestos. It had a duty of care to ensure Mr Feilner wouldn’t be exposed to such hazardous materials.
Prince’s failed to take any steps to protect Mr Feilner, or even warn him of the dangers he was facing in his work.
“James Hardie as manufacturer of the insulation at Prince’s also failed to warn of the dangers of its products, which it had known about for decades.”
Ms Sandford said Mr Feilner now suffered breathlessness on exertion, impaired lung function and pain. She said it was a relief to see him compensated to some degree for his pain and suffering.
“Mr Feilner has had to undergo surgery to diagnose the disease, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy in attempts to halt the progression of the mesothelioma,” she said.
“In terms of his costs, he needs to cover a range of medical, hospital, nursing and travelling expenses, as well as care and assistance until his death.
“This compensation payout will help ease a little of that burden.”
Ms Sandford said in addition to older workers, lawyers were seeking people develop mesothelioma after coming into contact with asbestos as children, during home renovations, and through other domestic exposure.
Mr Feilner said he had been shocked and dismayed to find out he had mesothelioma. The diagnosis was especially shocking, as he had lived a fit and healthy lifestyle – regularly completing long bicycle rides up until diagnosis and being part of several sporting clubs.
“This disease has had a terrible impact on my life, as well as my wife’s,” he said.
“I never had any idea that my symptoms had anything to do with the work I was doing 30 years ago.
“I would strongly urge anyone who’s worked with asbestos fibres to speak to their doctor and lawyer immediately.”