‘I was spitting out asbestos’

FORTUNATE: Ronnie Shimmin is lucky not to have had health problems

FORTUNATE: Ronnie Shimmin is lucky not to have had health problems

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A MANXMAN who was involved in spraying asbestos during the construction of Summerland has given a harrowing account of working with the now-banned substance.

‘I used to come home spitting the stuff out of my mouth,’ he recalled.

Ronnie Shimmin contacted the Manx Independent after reading our report about how builder Eddie Bedford has launched a fight for compensation after being diagnosed with mesothelioma – a terminal cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Mr Bedford believes his illness is connected to his time working as a bricklayer on the Summerland contract in 1970 where he remembers specialist contractors spraying asbestos.

Mr Shimmin, now 65 and living in Farmhill, Douglas, was one of those involved in the spraying operation.

He said his job was to feed the machine that sprayed the asbestos – and sometimes the dust was so thick he could not see the workers with the spray guns 20 feet in front.

‘I was 24 at the time and got the job through the dole office. I was there maybe a year – literally as long as it took to do the job.

‘There were two gangs of three with one feeding the machine and two doing the spraying. I fed the machine. Sometimes you couldn’t see the two with the spraygun 20 feet away.

‘At first we were not wearing masks but after a day or two the foreman said we had better wear them as we might get asbestosis. We wore suits supplied by the firm.

‘Once the machine stopped, the stuff was still in the air. I would come home spitting it out.’

Mr Shimmin said he’d ‘just been fortunate’ not to fall ill himself.

He said he remembers Eddie Bedford working at Summerland.

And, chillingly, he recalled that the construction site was so cold in winter that the builders used off-cuts of oroglas to light fires to keep warm.

The use of flammable oroglas plastic panels for the roof and sea-facing wall at Summerland was blamed in part for the rapid spread of the 1973 fire in which 50 lost their lives.

Mr Shimmin said the company he worked for at Summerland was the Turner Asbestos Company, based at Trafford Park in Manchester.

Lancashire manufacturing giant Turner & Newall was once the world’s largest asbestos producer. It opened its asbestos factory in Trafford Park in 1913, producing asbestos-cement building materials.

In the late 1990s, the company was bought by US company Federal-Mogul. Faced with huge asbestos claims, the company later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, protecting it from its creditors while the UK operation went into administration.

A UK-based T&N asbestos compensation scheme of £100m was established by Federal-Mogul’s UK administrators.

Helen Bradley, of Manchester-based law firm Birchall Blackburn, said the evidence supplied by Mr Shimmin would be helpful for a compensation claim she was lodging on Mr Bedford’s behalf against Turner’s administrators.

She believes Mr Bedford should also make a separate claim for compensation here in the island. But because no-win, no fee claims are not allowed in the Isle of Man, he would have to fund the cost of any legal action himself.

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