Successful fight for compensation for Dundee man exposed to hazardous materials at work

Man looking out to sea

Solicitors from our Dundee office acted on behalf of a man who became ill after being exposed to hazardous materials at work. 

Workplace industrial illness should not happen – employers have serious responsibilities for the safety of everyone who works for them that they must fulfil. 

Digby Brown were able to fully investigate, litigate and settle this case due to our specialist Dundee and Tayside based team’s expertise in workplace health and safety matters.

See below for an extended discussion of this case and the important health and safety issues it raises:
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Dundee manufacturing company responsible for exposure to hazardous materials

Digby Brown’s Dundee office represented a man who was employed by a company in Dundee manufacturing printing blankets on an industrial basis.

Part of the industrial process involved in making these printing blankets involves the curing of rubber.

Ovens installed for curing rubber on new premises

The employer moved premises and during the move, they installed a direct gas fired, re-circulating air box oven with four individually controlled chambers.

The ovens were designed for general heat processing and the curing of non-hazardous materials.

During the installation process, the company who were tasked with installing the ovens went out of business.

Rumours within the factory were present that "corners were cut" in order to facilitate installation as quickly, and cheaply, as possible.

During the curing process, various substances are produced within the ovens.

Rubber blankets, coated with rubber are placed into the oven and heated in order to cure the rubber.

No personal protective equipment provided throughout 16 year employment

When the ovens were initially installed, our client was not provided with any personal protective equipment, such as a mask, whilst working within and adjacent to the ovens.

Our client had been employed by the defenders for approximately 16 years and had not been provided with any masks, breathing apparatus etc. throughout his employment with them.

Toxic Carbon Disulphide produced during curing process

Carbon Disulphide, together with other substances, is produced during the curing process. Carbon Disulphide is classified as toxic by inhalation.

The material safety data sheet for Carbon Disulphide notes that exposure to Carbon Disulphide may cause irritation to the eyes, skin and the respiratory tract.

Long term or repeated exposure may cause dermatitis and have effects on the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.

Smoke and gases escaped from ovens during curing process

Our client worked in close proximity to the ovens. Following the installation of the ovens, employees, such as our client identified that smoke and gases were escaping from the ovens during the curing process.

Employee complaints to management about health and safety

Numerous complaints were made by employees to management.

These complaints were initially ignored.

Employer investigates health and safety of ovens 6 months later

As a result of reports and complaints by the defenders employees, an investigation was carried out by the defenders around 6 months later.

Ovens not designed for curing of hazardous materials

The investigation identified that the ovens were designed to be used with the “curing of non-hazardous materials.”

The materials placed within the ovens during the curing process are all regarded to be hazardous materials.

Deficiencies in sealants of chamber walls and roofs

The investigation also identified deficiencies in relation to the sealants on the chamber walls and roofs over the ovens.

Repairs to oven after investigation not successful

Various alterations were made to the ovens as a result of that investigation. The repairs were not successful.

Our client, and other employees, continued to be exposed to gases and fumes being emitted from the ovens, including Carbon Disulphide.

Exposure to hazardous materials at work causes employee to be unwell

Our client began to experience multiple symptoms including headaches, breathing problems, dizziness and tremors in his hands and arms.

Tremor in right hand likely to be permanent

The tremor was more noticeable in his right hand and our client is right hand dominant. On one occasion, he collapsed whilst at work due to suffering from headaches and breathing difficulties. The tremor is likely to be permanent.

Digby Brown’s industrial disease solicitors

Our client came to Digby Brown’s industrial disease solicitors in Dundee for assistance with an industrial disease claim.

Before the case went to court, liability was admitted by the insurers on behalf of the employer but causation was denied.

Industrial disease claim raised in court

The industrial claim was raised in court and proceedings commenced. Initially liability was again denied by the solicitors who were acting on behalf of the employers.

Liability was eventually admitted by the employers’ insurers but causation remained in dispute.

Insurers argued symptoms were result of Parkinson’s disease

They advanced an argument that our client’s symptoms were not attributable to the exposure, but that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

There was no history of Parkinson's disease within the pursuer's family. Parkinson's disease, as an alternative diagnosis, had been ruled out by the pursuer's treating surgeon on the NHS.

Expert reports confirm symptoms result of exposure to hazardous materials at work

Our industrial disease solicitors had obtained a report from a Consultant Toxicologist – he was adamant our client’s symptoms were in keeping with exposure to the substances concerned.

A Neurologist also confirmed that, on balance, the symptoms complained of were likely to have been caused by the exposure.

Our client had not suffered from any similar symptoms prior to the installation of the ovens.

Medical expert recommended he did not return to work

The Neurologist recommended the pursuer should not return to that employment. He advised his employers that he would not be returning to work on medical advice.

Insurer’s report medical expert questioned exposure as being the source of the symptoms

The insurer’s received a report from a Neurologist which questioned the exposure as being the source of the symptoms complained of.

Further tests were required to be undertaken as an attempt to differentiate between naturally occurring Parkinson’s disease, and Parkinson like symptoms caused, for example, by exposure to the noxious substances.

The defenders insisted that the workplace was safe and that the pursuer should return to work.

Expert reports on impact on future employment

Reports were also obtained in relation to the future employment prospects of our client and in relation to his future loss in relation to his pension.

The experts instructed by ourselves were adamant as to the cause of the symptoms and as to his future prospects in the employment market.

Future loss of earning claim

We advanced a future loss of earnings claim on behalf of our client. He, in our submission, was permanently disadvantaged on the open labour market due to his tremor.

At the Pre-Trial Meeting, less than a month before the final Court hearing was to proceed, the insurer’s abandoned their arguments in respect of the cause of the symptoms.

They conceded that the symptoms were likely to be caused by exposure.

Following settlement negotiations, settlement was agreed at £190,000.

Industrial diseases can take years to manifest and the cases can be difficult to prove. If you have developed an illness because of work you may have a claim for compensation.

Call us on 0333 200 5925, or fill in our brief enquiry form and someone will contact you to discuss your particular circumstances.