'I feel angry': Retired engineer looks back on asbestos working conditions

Peter Auger

Former insulation engineer Peter Auger spoke out about what it was like working with asbestos - Credit: Michael Cox

A retired engineer with a lung condition caused by asbestos exposure has spoken of his anger at companies he worked for.

Peter Auger, who has lived in Rainham for almost 60 years, spent his career working as an insulation engineer or 'lagger'.

But the 79-year-old now suffers from asbestosis, which is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos.

He made a negligence claim against 12 of the companies he worked for, which was settled last year.

Peter told this paper: "I feel angry. Firms haven't looked after me and treated me with disrespect really.

"I only wanted to earn a living, I've earnt them money and the thanks they give you is one of them has given me asbestosis."

At 17 he began as an apprentice for Cape at its asbestos factory in Harts Lane, Barking.

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Peter said he was taught to put asbestos on the likes of pipes and boilers.

He said: "My overalls used to get smothered in asbestos."

At the Barking factory, he recalled watching half a dozen women making asbestos mats for pipe valves when he had "half an hour to kill".

"They were making these mats with blue asbestos. They had extractor fans above their head and everything else but they never wore a mask," he claimed.

"And when they used to make a mat, they would have this clump of wood and they would bang it into shape.

"The outside was asbestos cloth, inside was blue asbestos.

"I used to sit there like an idiot watching them doing it. No-one told me it might kill me one day."

Peter, who has been married for 60 years and has two children, said he had no idea how dangerous it was at the time.

He now goes to funerals of laggers around once a month, adding that they are dying "left, right and centre".

Peter also worked for Newalls, where he was a shop steward, after leaving a second spell at Cape in 1969.

It was part of Turner and Newall, another major asbestos manufacturer, which went into administration in 2001.

A trust has been set up to deal with the scale of asbestos claims against it.

Peter recalled when workers went on strike over concerns Newalls was bringing asbestos back for use after saying it would be replaced with non-asbestos.

Conditions got better, he admitted, after the introduction of asbestos regulations in 1970.

Peter, who was released by West Ham United after spending time there as a teenager, retired at 65 but said he began to struggle with his breathing about five years ago.

He was diagnosed with asbestosis, adding: "When you retire, you half think you've escaped it. But you haven't."

Peter was speaking in Barking where a memorial was unveiled on Thursday (April 28) to commemorate those who have lost their lives from asbestos exposure.

Peter Auger next to the memorial to asbestos victims in Barking

Peter next to the memorial to asbestos victims in Barking - Credit: Michael Cox

"It's nice to see a statue going up for all those innocent people who died trying to earn a living, including my brother and my brother-in-law.

"Let's be honest, there are plenty of youngsters who don't know what asbestos is or what it means."

In his claim, Peter was represented by Shaheen Mosquera, a senior associate at law firm Fieldfisher.

It has been representing Barking residents for more than 30 years in claims over asbestos exposure from the town's Cape factory.

These were not just from workers there but also residents exposed to asbestos dust, Shaheen said.

"It's an appalling and shameful legacy."

A Cape spokesperson said: “Cape confirms that it settled a liability claim for Mr Auger late last year from its scheme of arrangement, which was implemented for the purpose of providing compensation of this kind.”

The Turner and Newall Asbestos Trust has also been contacted for comment.