Compensation for heirs of worker who died after asbestos exposure

No action taken at dockyard though health risks were documented

The heirs of a dockyard worker who died as a result of exposure to asbestos while at work have been awarded €9,000 in damages.

A court ruled that his fundamental human right to protection of life and health having been violated by the state.

Maria Rosaria Fenech and her children Karen Lagana and Audrey Mashburn filed their constitutional action in the First Hall of the Civil Court presided over by Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti against the Chief Government Medical Officer and the Attorney General.

They told the court they were the heirs of John Fenech who had died in 2011 as a result of asbestosis caused by his exposure to the substance while working at then state-owned Malta Drydocks.

Mr Fenech joined Malta Drydocks at the age of 14 and had kept on working there until he was boarded out at the age of 57.

A representative of the dockyard told the court that investigations carried out after 1993 had uncovered three types of asbestos, which were removed. Awareness of the harmful effects of the substance became rife in Malta in the 1990s, even though the effects had been scientifically proven as far back as 1960 in the United Kingdom.

The court ruled that the state was obliged to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of persons within its jurisdiction.

This obligation applied particularly in the case of industrial activities which by their very nature were dangerous or when the individual was exposed to asbestos at a workplace which was run by a public corporation owned and controlled by the government.

Mr Justice Chetcuti concluded that Mr Fenech's death was the result of a serious omission on the part of the government which had failed to be updated on the subject of asbestos and which had also failed to eliminate its use.

Mr Fenech had been exposed to danger which he was unaware of even though the link between asbestos and illness had been documented medically from the 1960s.

The court concluded by finding in favour of the heirs and awarded them €9,000 by way of compensation.