Unite member left with career-ending illness succeeds in legal claim

A Unite member from the north of England turned to his union for legal support after exposure to mist from metal fluids at work caused him to develop occupational asthma.

Emmanuel Forgione worked as a quality inspector at a firm that produces motor parts. He was responsible for a production line including machinery that used metalworking fluids. When in use, a ‘mist’ from the fluids would seep into the air around him.

The Unite member had pre-existing chest problems and informed his employer that breathing this ‘mist’ would cause him – and his colleagues – respiratory issues, especially considering the lack of ventilation.

Years went by without change, and it was only when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a ‘Notice of Improvement’ (NOI) that the employer recognised the issues. Even after all of this, the employer did not bother to fit an extraction in the machines Emmanuel used until 2017, by which point he had already been diagnosed with occupational asthma.

He said: “The number of people working on the line was shrinking, which meant those of us left had to do more. We felt duty-bound to work nights to keep our jobs and the reduced staff on a night shift meant you just had to do whatever needed doing, regardless of the consequences. All this meant that, when I should have had less contact with the machines, I was actually getting more.”

He turned to Unite Legal Services for legal support, who helped him secure £15,000 in compensation.

Karen Reay, of Unite the union, said: “For years the firm's occupational health provider knew Emmanuel had breathing problems, but did nothing to remove him from exposure. They even told the HSE they would take the necessary measures to improve the situation but failed to do so.

“Despite being in no doubt after the HSE inspection and improvement notice, they did not make the workplace safe until the damage was done and the health of their staff was harmed forever.”

Emmanuel added: “My legal team were excellent and kept me in touch every step of the way with my claim. I feel much better now that I am away from the place. My breathing has improved vastly and I’m out and about walking again in the countryside, which is great.”