Ex-shipyard workers awarded compensation for asbestos exposure

17 former shipyard workers have been awarded €51,000 in compensation over exposure to asbestos

Shipyard workers claimed to have been exposed to asbestos without safety precautions being taken (File photo)
Shipyard workers claimed to have been exposed to asbestos without safety precautions being taken (File photo)

The court has awarded 17 former shipyard workers and their heirs compensation after they were exposed to the carcinogenic asbestos at their place of work.

The workers, some of whom are now deceased, had sued the Director General of Public Health, the CEO of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority and the Attorney General in 2015.

They claimed to have been exposed to the carcinogenic material without adequate safety precautions being taken, despite it being a known fact that inhaling asbestos fibres caused cancer.

The First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, presided by Madam Justice Anna Felice was asked to declare that by failing to provide a safe system of work or a safe working environment, the defendants had committed a breach of their right to life and private family life and liquidate damages accordingly.

The defendants had argued that there was no evidence that the exposure was the sole reason for their health problems. 

The court noted that none of the applicants were diagnosed with cancer, but with other less serious conditions caused by asbestos.

The first law protecting workers was introduced in 2003 although asbestos had been banned from importation in the 1980s.

The court said that it was convinced on the basis of probability that the applicants had been exposed to asbestos dust during their time at the shipyards on the basis of expert testimony and other court decisions on the matter.

Quoting case law on the subject, the court said the Maltese government knew or ought to have known of the dangers arising from exposure to asbestos at least as from the early 1970s.

Although many of the plaintiffs had complained of shortness of breath they were also advanced in years and none of them had testified as to how the condition had affected their life, observed the court.

These factors led the court to arrive at a figure of €3,000 each as compensation for the suffering caused.

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