Nellie Kershaw: What have we learned in 100 years?

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Adam Curtis
Marketing Supervisor, Assurity Consulting
14th March 2024

Born in 1891, Nellie entered the workforce at 12, first in a cotton mill and then at an asbestos mill. Inhaling asbestos fibres for nearly two decades took a heavy toll. By 1922, her health had deteriorated, and she was diagnosed with asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease caused by asbestos inhalation. Sadly, Nellie succumbed to the illness at the young age of 33. She died 100 years ago today, on the 14th March 1924. She sought to challenge her employers but sadly passed without them admitting liability, but the following investigations did lead to the first set of Asbestos Industry Regulations in 1931.

Nellie's case was groundbreaking, being the first published record in medical literature (in the British Medical Journal) where a death from asbestos exposure was linked to occupational inhalation. Nellie became a cautionary tale, whose tragic fate exposed the hidden dangers of asbestos in the workplace.

Unfortunately, regulations concerning asbestos remained lax for decades. Nellie's story highlights the fight for worker safety and the critical role played by documented cases in bringing about legislative change. It wasn't until the 1990s that asbestos use was finally restricted in many countries.

100 years on, Nellie Kershaw serves as a powerful symbol of the enduring fight for safe working conditions. Nellie’s story reminds us of the human cost associated with workplace hazards and the ongoing need for vigilance in protecting workers' health and safety.