John Towersey, a husband and father of three from Swanley in Kent, was diagnosed with mesothelioma five years ago.
In the mid to late 1960s he undertook a four-year apprenticeship which involved roofing work, fitting windows, doors and pipe casing and also joist work. He was aged 16 when he started his apprenticeship which helped him get into a career in joinery. John carried out general joinery jobs for local companies around the country, before settling into a job which he stayed in until he retired for health reasons. It was during the early years of his career that he came into contact with deadly asbestos.
He was never made aware of the risks of working with asbestos. When rumours began to circulate at work about the possible dangers, nothing was done by the employers to protect staff and, as John was not informed of the risks, he did not wear protective clothing or carry out other safety measures.
Currently six joiners die every week as a consequence of exposure to asbestos dust while at work. Asbestos is a real and relevant risk to today's tradesmen, any building built or refurbished before the year 2000 could contain the deadly substance.
John first noticed he was ill in 2003 when he experienced breathing problems, sweats and couldn't lie on his right side at night. Due to the pain he went to the doctor soon after, telling his wife we could be home that evening, but he didn't return for a month. After seeing the doctor, he was admitted to hospital where he underwent many tests before being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy were arranged and he had fluid drained from his lung. The news of his condition came as a huge shock to both John and his family.
Following the diagnosis, John suffered from depression, which still occasionally affects him. He also deals with the guilt of his mother's death after she died from the same disease. At her inquest, the coroner ruled that she contracted the disease from washing John's overalls when he was serving his apprenticeship.
It is not just John who has felt the effects of his illness. His wife, Bev, is a huge support to him. "You just don't believe it will happen to you."
However, five years later, John is determined to make the most of the time he has left.
"You've got to decide either that it's going to get you, or you make the most of life. Following the shock and devastation I initially felt, I learned to accept what had happened."
John has changed his diet and tries to lead the life he had before by being as active as possible, though he finds simple tasks- such as climbing the stairs- difficult.
John plays a huge role in the Barking and Dagenham Support Group for fellow mesothelioma sufferers and he has proved to be an inspiration to others with the way he is fighting the disease.
John wants employers to ensure that other workers are not put in the same danger he was. "Employers should make sure they only use licensed asbestos removal companies- don't do it yourself. It's not worth the risk!"
John has strong feelings about the subject and his message to joiners and tradespeople is clear; "The issue of asbestos did not disappear when the substance was banned. Don't you owe it to your workmates, your family and yourself to find out more?"
Every year there are still over 4,000 deaths from asbestos related diseases, thousands of tradesmen could be working where asbestos is present right now.
- Asbestos essentials
- Asbestos: The licensed contractors' guide
- Managing and working with asbestos: Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012