Inquest Confirms Coke Oven Worker Died From Industrial Disease

Over 50 North East Coking Plant Workers Now Taking Legal Action After Suffering Respiratory Problems

28.07.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The widow of a man who died of an industrial disease caused by working on the coke ovens from the 1970s until 2010 says she wants to raise awareness of the support that victims and their families can receive as she takes legal action against his former employers.

An inquest in June this year ruled that Middlesbrough man Kevin Miller died aged 56 in November last year of an industrial disease after working in and around the coke ovens for more than 30 years at the South Bank Coke Ovens.

More than 150 former coke oven workers and their families from across the country have instructed specialist law firm Irwin Mitchell to take legal action against British Steel and British Coal , as they believe that the cancers and respiratory diseases they are now suffering from were caused by exposure to harmful dust and fumes.

The group action legal case follows a High Court Judgment against a phurnacite plant in South Wales in 2012, which ruled the Coal Board had not done enough to protect workers from fumes.

Roger Maddocks, a specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing Mr Miller’s widow, said:

Expert Opinion
Kevin had worked for 30 years close by the coke ovens breathing in the potent fumes all the time. Many workers were put at risk of serious and terminal illness by working for long periods of their careers near the coke ovens.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

The exact cause of death was listed as “Pneumonia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease” on the post mortem. The inquest acknowledged that he was a smoker, although he had stopped in 2004.

Roger added:

Expert Opinion
Hundreds of former workers are now suffering from terrible conditions simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis since the 1970s. Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day. We continue to represent many people in a battle for justice and to provide for their families in future as they are now suffering from diseases after working on the coke ovens.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

As Irwin Mitchell gathers evidence in the legal cases Kevin’s widow Veronica, says she wants to raise awareness of the help and support that former coke oven workers can receive.

Veronica Miller, 60, from Middlesbrough, said: “Before his death Kevin was an avid cycler and used to bike 8 miles every day to and from work. He had described his working conditions as horrendous and said the fumes were terrible and overwhelming, but they were only really given suitable masks around the late 1990s and he’d already spent 20 years breathing in the toxic fumes.

Kevin leaves three children and nine grandchildren and Veronica says it was heartbreaking for him being so ill when they came to visit. In 2010 alone he lost almost six stone in weight and became very breathless trying to do everyday activities.

She added: “We were devastated when we found out about his illness and it was a massive shock to all of us. It’s been a very difficult past few years as we have tried to come to terms with it and he was so weak when our grandchildren visited that he struggled to play with them.

“Finding out that his illness was caused by simply going to work every day is so difficult to take and I can’t believe he wasn’t better protected. Hopefully now the legal action will provide all the victims and their families the justice we deserve and I hope all those affected by similar circumstances to Kevin will seek out the advice of specialists as there is help and support out there for them.”

The family would like anyone who may be able to help with information about the working conditions at South Bank Coke Works, whether they knew Kevin or not, between the 1970s and 2010 to contact Katie Faulds on 0191 2790 142 or email katie.faulds@irwinmitchell.com

If you worked extensively on or around coke ovens and have since become ill, our industrial disease & illness claims solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Coke Oven Workers Compensation page for more information.