A Unite member working as a machine operator at an aircraft manufacturer has received a settlement of £6,000 after a leak from a faulty machine caused him to develop a lung condition.
The member was working on a machine which was, unbeknown to him, releasing toxic coolant into the air because the filters were outdated.
He began to feel lethargic and suffer from shortness of breath, finding physical tasks exhausting. He reported this to his managers but they couldn’t find the source of the problem.
His symptoms didn’t improve so he visited his doctor and was referred to see a specialist at hospital. After further tests and an x-ray he was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an inflammation of the lung caused by inhaling toxic substances.
The member initially returned to work, but the faulty machine had not been fixed and, as a result, he needed more time off because of his condition.
It was only when some of his colleagues developed similar symptoms that his employer started to change the machine’s filters regularly and made sure that the extractor fans were used to ventilate the factory.
The member contacted Unite Legal Services to investigate a claim for compensation.
He said: “At its worst my condition has been debilitating. The symptoms would ease when I got home from work, but as soon as I was back by the machine I would struggle to breathe. I had worked with these machines for decades so I knew this wasn’t normal, but my employer couldn’t seem to understand the problem.
“Thankfully, my condition has improved a lot since I was moved but I still worry about the thought of coming into contact with coolant again.
“I would advise anybody who has suffered a similar experience to come forward and speak to Unite Legal Services because they can make sure that the employer doesn’t get away with ignoring your complaints or the damage caused to your health.”
Peter Kavanagh, regional secretary at Unite the Union, said: “The outdated filters meant that toxins would escape from the machine, and because the extractor fans weren’t used the coolant was airborne.
“Since our member was diagnosed with the lung condition, steps have been taken by the employer to address the issue. While this is good news for the workforce, it is very poor that it took a member of staff to develop an industrial illness before the fault was sorted.”