What are you looking for?

14 March 2024 | Witness Appeals | Article by Richard Green

Remembering Nellie Kershaw: 100 years since the first documented asbestos-related death

Written by Ceri Clark, Associate in our asbestos litigation department

Today, Thursday 14th March 2024, marks the 100th anniversary of Nellie Kershaw’s tragic death.

Nellie Kershaw was born in 1891 and sadly passed away due to what we now know as asbestosis on 14 March 1924. Nellie was only 33 years old.

Nellie Kershaw, the woman who was the first documented death from an asbestos-related disease

Nellie’s death was the first to be attributed to occupational asbestos exposure from her work at Turner Brothers Asbestos. Nellie worked spinning raw asbestos fibres into yarn, which caused her to breathe in large quantities of asbestos dust.

When she was diagnosed with asbestosis, or asbestos poisoning as it was then referred to, she was not eligible for national insurance sickness benefits (at a time before the NHS). In addition, Turner Brothers Asbestos refused to accept responsibility for her diagnosis or death. This was in part due to asbestos diseases not yet being officially recognised, and also not wanting to set a precedent for claims. Therefore, no compensation was ever paid to Nellie or her family.

When she died in March 1924 she left behind a husband and daughter in poverty.

Nellie’s death led to an inquiry into the effects of asbestos dust and the first statutory regulation of asbestos with the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931. However, it is sad to think that Turner Brothers could have acknowledged Nellie’s suffering and put measures in place to protect their employees before Parliament had to legislate duties. This could have protected thousands of workers earlier who didn’t need to suffer the way Nellie had.

Nellie’s story sadly echoes the experiences of many asbestos-exposed victims. It also highlights that even though people may think that traditionally people, more likely men, who work as laggers or in trades are more exposed to asbestos, there is also a long history of women like Nellie, facing exposure through factory work, office settings, schools, hospitals, and even by laundering family members’ overalls.

As we reflect on the last 100 years since Nellie’s death and consider the legislation and duties that employers must now comply with thanks to Nellie and asbestos campaigners, thankfully workers now have the protection that Nellie so desperately needed.

We understand that our clients contact us during a difficult time, we are here to help, and make the process as easy and stress free as possible. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our asbestos team.

Key contact

Richard Green


Richard is a Partner and Head of the Asbestos Litigation team. Richard specialises in asbestos-related disease claims and has recovered millions of pounds in compensation for his clients.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


Next steps

We’re here to get things moving. Drop a message to one of our experts and we’ll get straight back to you.

Call us: 033 3016 2222

Message us