Mining giant BHP Billiton is considering appealing an order to pay a record $2.2 million to a man who was exposed to asbestos at a NSW steelworks.

The compensation was ordered on Thursday by the Dust Diseases Tribunal and is understood to be the largest payment in the tribunal’s 25-year history.

The decision is the first time BHP Billiton has been ordered to pay financial compensation to a former employee of the Newcastle Steelworks who has contracted mesothelioma, an incurable cancer.

“BHP Billiton is currently considering the judgment and given it could be subject to appeal, is not commenting further on the matter at this time,” a spokeswoman said.

The claimant, Steven Dunning, was diagnosed with the asbestos-related disease in 2010.

The 54-year-old was 19 when he began his two-year stint as a labourer at blast furnaces in the steelworks.

Slater & Gordon lawyer Joanne Wade said the case was a landmark win in NSW.

“While today’s verdict is a significant victory for Mr Dunning and his family, it does not take away from the fact that he is dealing with an incurable, terminal disease as a result of BHP’s negligence,” Ms Wade said in a statement.

Mr Dunning’s wife, Roma, said their lives had changed dramatically since her husband was diagnosed with the disease.

“I cannot begin to explain the devastation we felt on the day we were told he had this terminal illness,” she said.

“We are trying to make the most of every day, even though Steven is still very sick and unable to do most of the things he used to enjoy.”