Hairdressers and Barbers in 1970’s and 1980’s at Risk of Asbestos-Related Cancer?

Yesterday, The Yorkshire Post reported that a former hairdresser had secured an award of statutory damages for developing work-induced, asbestos-related cancer.[i]

80-year-old, Calogero La Bella, was a hairdresser, who moved to the UK from Italy, in the 1950’s, and was employed by various UK hair salons over several decades.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, asbestos (chrysotile) was a common component in vintage hand-held and over-the-head (hooded) hairdryers (a fire-retardant lining/string to support the internal heating element).

However, Ray Seymour, General Secretary of National Hairdressers Federation, has previously warned that asbestos is not used in ‘modern hairdryers’ and ‘has not been used in any European models since the end of the Second World War’.[ii] Further, that the only asbestos-containing hairdryers sold in the UK after the ‘Second World War’ were imported from the Far East, although the British Government instigated an import embargo ‘since the 1960s’.

Regardless, Mr. La Bella alleged that he was required to frequently clean and maintain asbestos-containing salon equipment as part of his job role(s) years after importation supposedly ceased. He recalled replacing the heating element and electrical wiring.

Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Instructed claimant personal injury firm, Irwin Mitchell, linked Mr. La Bella’s condition to his long-term occupational exposure to asbestos dust, emanating from hairdryers, but sought compensation under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS), as opposed to bringing a civil claim against a specific employer or employers’ liability (EL) insurer, on account of the protracted latency period.

Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, Lucy Andrews, described this case of hair salon exposure as ‘undoubtedly unique’, as most asbestos-related disease claims are advanced by ‘industrial’ workers, i.e. construction workers, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc.

Can more compensation claims (statutory or civil action) be expected to be advanced by hairdressers, barbers and other salon workers?

Over a decade ago, The Yorkshire Post reported the death of another hairdresser, whose post-mortem revealed that her mesothelioma was an industrial disease. In that particular instance, the deceased would typically leave hood hairdryers switched-on for the entirety of a working day (more than 12-hours), during her 10-year period of employment, between 1960 and 1969:

‘When the girls used to go in on a morning when the weather was cold, they used to turn on the dryers on full speed to warm the room up’.[iii]

Elsewhere, Dahlgren and Talbott (2015)[iv] conducted a case study of peritoneal mesothelioma in a hairdresser, who was intermittently (‘between 15 and 30 minutes/hour’) exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, and concluded, in an International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health article, that:

‘Hairdryers are possible sources of asbestos exposure in patients with mesothelioma, and asbestos exposure risk is higher for those who use hairdryers occupationally’.

What has the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said about this potential employers’ liability (EL) risk?

Despite the possible threat of continuous, long-term continuous workplace exposure, HSE tested 3-types of salon hood-style hairdryers (a non-asbestos PTFE Regal Mark 6, an asbestos containing La Reine and an asbestos containing Suter Avante) in 2006: Asbestos Emission Tests in Salon Hood-Style Hairdryers (HSL/2006/114) and identified that:

‘... no significant asbestos (chrysotile) release was generated under any of the conditions sampled while varying time, speed and temperatures in usage’.

HSE recognised that a conceivable limitation of this investigation was that only ‘relatively good condition’ hair dryers were subjected to testing; they were less likely to release asbestos fibres than hair dryers in ‘poor condition’.

Contrary to the advice of Mr. Seymour (above), HSE documented that a large proportion of asbestos-containing hairdryers used in present-day UK salons were not made in the Far East, but were actually manufactured in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands (La Reine, Suter, Wella, Kadus, Carmen, Indola, Eugene, Salon Nelson, Muholus, Schwartzkopf, Kerka and Turbinator).

Further emphasising this point, HSE publicised that Midland Dryer Services, which serviced 1,500 salons in the UK (as of 2006), were aware of asbestos presence in approximately 25% of all professional hood dryers still-in-use, most of which were only 10 to 20-years-old.

Seeing that asbestos identification only took place when the dryers were repaired, due to mechanical or electrical failure, this percentage could have been higher. Asbestos in working dryers are, to all intents and purposes, untraced.

We will continue to monitor asbestos-related disease as an emerging EL risk for the hair and beauty industry, publishing additional content as and when new information surfaces.

 

[i] Daniel Sheridan, ‘Retired Yorkshire hairdresser diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer after being exposed to toxic dust inside hairdryers’ (15 October 2019 Yorkshire Post) <https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/hairdryers-leave-retired-hairdresser-asbestos-3437038> accessed 18 October 2019.

[ii] Amy Binns, ‘Hairdryer dust led to woman's asbestos death’ (13 January 2005 Yorkshire Post) <https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/latest-news/hairdryer-dust-led-to-woman-s-asbestos-death-1-2553598> accessed 18 October 2019.

[iii] Ibid at 2.

[iv] James Dahlgren and Patrick Talbott, Case report: peritoneal mesothelioma from asbestos in hairdryers. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2015 Jan-Mar; 21(1): 1–4. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273513/pdf/oeh-21-01-001.pdf> accessed 18 October 2019.