Oxford University Keeper died from asbestos poisoning

Last Updated on 22nd July 2020 by Kirsty Smithson

Oxford University Keeper of books may have died from asbestos poisoning

An Oxford University Keeper of books may have died from asbestos poisoning.

A court has heard how Professor Dennis Shaw worked at the Bodleian Library in the early 1970’s whilst some major refurbishment works were taking place.

It is thought that he could have inhaled deadly asbestos fibers as a consequence, which led to him developing mesothelioma cancer.

Following his cancer diagnosis, Dr Shaw wrote a lengthy private statement for his family.

In his statement, he detailed what he believed had led to his death.

He talked about the Bodleian Library where he famously became known as the Keeper of Scientific Books from 1976 until he retired in 1991.

Previous to being given the title of ‘Keeper of books’, the Professor worked at the Bodleian Library and had been a regular user when he was a leading academic in physics and science at Oxford University’s Keble College.

Inquest hears details of Professor’s career

Dr Shaw’s career saw him spending a lot of his time supervising building sites as part of his work.

The inquest heard how he most recently supervised the construction of an acre-long underground extension to the Radcliffe Science section of the Bodleian which centres on the famous Radcliffe Camera, a circular building which is part of the Bodleian.

Professor Shaw was diagnosed with lung cancer in early December 2016.

The doctors informed him that the cancer was as a result of his working environment.

Leading up to his death, the Professor wrote a statement to his family which gave a list of projects that could have possibly contributed to his illness, including the acre-long extension to the Bodleian library.

He would often spend an hour-and-a half every day supervising the construction of the library extension in the early 1970’s.

Mesothelioma diagnosis given

Dr Shaw was diagnosed with the terminal cancer, mesothelioma, in December 2016.

He died in the night on 20th July 2017.

The Coroner concluded that his death came as a result of having worked in an environment where asbestos in buildings was present.

She said, “Mesothelioma is a disease that comes about due to someone’s exposure to asbestos. He was not aware of any exposure but it is difficult to know when you’re clearing large amounts of dust during any building project.”

“In his statement, he talks about all the work that he did at this time and there were obviously lots of building works all around him.”

“The Radcliffe Science Library was also undergoing lots of work at the time. His job included supervision of the building works. I would suggest that the correct conclusion here is one of industrial disease.”

The daughter of Dr Shaw told the coroner, “It was a shock to all of us because at the time it was very fast and unexpected. The deterioration up to his death was probably from April until July. That was the most serious deterioration.”

“He received very good treatment from the hospital. That gave him a lot of time, several months. From Easter onwards he began to deteriorate. Still, he did all the groceries on the day before he died.”

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in buildings so as not to put employees at risk. Contact our Armco office for asbestos management and refurbishment/ demolition surveys on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting https://www.armco.org.uk/

Alternatively, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit https://www.armcoasbestostraining.co.uk/ for more information or to book a training course.  

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Published Oct 30, 2017

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