Member compensated after exposure to harmful chemical at work

A Unite member has secured £40,000 in compensation after he developed occupational asthma and dermatitis following exposure to a chemical at work. 

The former factory worker from Bedworth worked for a car parts producer as an operator on a grinding machine. During the member’s employment, he developed a skin irritation on his hands and arms, which then spread to his cheeks, forehead, neck and ears. 

After several months of working on the grinding machine the member also developed a painful cough and suffered bouts of breathlessness. However, his symptoms would ease when he was away from the factory. 

His health deteriorated so much so that he suffered from asthma attacks lasting for up to two hours. The attacks prompted to him to seek medical advice. 

The Unite member was diagnosed with occupational asthma and dermatitis, which doctors attributed to his exposure to Cobalt – a chemical used in the grinding machine at the factory. His employer did not provide him with any personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against the risks of a reaction to Cobalt. 

After developing symptoms he was given two PPE suits and masks to trial while working on the presses but because they restricted both movement and breathing, they could not be worn for any length of time. Ultimately his employment was terminated as he could not carry out his work. 

He got in touch with Unite Legal Services to pursue a claim for compensation. 

Unite Legal Services investigations found that the employer had failed to carry out a full risk assessment to ensure that the factory had adequate ventilation and extraction, and had failed to provide suitable PPE. 

The Unite member said: “I had never suffered from chest or skin problems before working at the factory, I was healthy and in good shape. Thankfully, my dermatitis has eased since leaving the factory but I still suffer with breathlessness and wheezing, especially in the winter. These symptoms are likely to affect me for the rest of my life. 

“I’m very grateful for the support and advice I’ve had from Unite Legal Services. The compensation means that my employer has had to take responsibility for my exposure to Cobalt.”  

Peter Coulson, from Unite the Union, said: “Cobalt is a known hazardous substance and if a proper workplace assessment had been carried out, our member’s health problems could have been avoided. 

“Supplying protective equipment really is one of the most basic requirements for any employer to protect staff from potential harm at work. Unfortunately, our member’s employer failed to address these health problems until too late, which led to the premature end of our member’s career and long lasting health problems.”