High Court Told About Coke Oven Cases - ‘A Step Forward In Fight For Justice’

Report On Progress Of Investigation To Help Hundreds Of Respiratory Illness Victims


Lawyers representing more than 350 former coke oven workers who developed cancers and respiratory diseases, or their families who lost loved ones to such conditions, have reported on progress in investigating and dealing with the claims and the important steps taken towards  securing justice for victims to the High Court.

At a hearing held at the High Court in London today (October 16th), the judge was told of the progress of the claims against British Coal and British Steel in relation to dust and fume exposure suffered by hundreds of workers at coking plants across the country in areas including Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the North East, South Wales and Scotland.

Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James allege that the companies and their subsidiaries failed to correctly assess the risks of working on or around coke ovens and also did not adequately protect workers from the dust and fumes created in such environments.

The lawyers are confident that they will be able to establish that British Coal and British Steel were in breach of legal duties owed to their workers in causing them to be exposed, as they were, to dust and fumes paving the way for the men or their families to obtain compensation.

The court was updated on progress and told that two Group Actions were contemplated: one against British Coal and one against British Steel. The court was also told that Group Litigation Orders were being formulated and would be brought before the court in the near future.

Expert Opinion
The hearing at the High Court today is another important step forward in the fight for justice for former coke oven workers and the families who have lost loved ones who worked at such plants.

"Through our work, we see far too many cases where people have developed serious and in some cases fatal illnesses as a result of the air they were breathing at work. All workers have the right to be able to go to work and return home safely. The risks to health from exposure to dust and fumes has been widely known for decades by those responsible for managing the coking industry and the extent of suffering caused to the men and their families is wholly unacceptable. It was entirely preventable.

"Over the past two years, we have been working to gather evidence to ensure that the voices of all of those affected by this will be heard. Today’s hearing has highlighted the issues and the vital work which is being done and which we are determined to continue to ensure that our clients ultimately get the justice they deserve."
Roger Maddocks, Partner

Gareth Morgan, Partner at Hugh James, commented: “We see today as an important step in our fight to secure justice for hundreds of former coke oven workers who suffered from ill health as a direct result of working at the plants. 

“The impact on not only the former coke oven workers but also their families has been devastating, with many people’s lives being unnecessarily cut short due to the inadequacies of their former employers who failed to have the right health and safety measures in place over a number of decades. We are continuing to support the coke oven workers and their families to resolve their cases as quickly as possible.”


The cases against British Coal and British Steel were able to proceed following rulings in a test case in October 2012 related to National Coal’s operation of a Phurnacite plant in South Wales.

It was ruled that the organisation had failed to protect workers against inhalation of dust and fumes, with protection only being introduced in 1981 after workers had been exposed to the chemicals for a number of decades.

Former coke oven workers also became entitled to industrial injuries disability benefit in August 2012, after a paper from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in September 2011 found the risk of contracting lung cancer increased significantly where employees had spent more than 5 years working on tops of coke ovens or 15 years working on around the ovens.

Anyone who believes they or loved ones developed skin or lung cancer, or respiratory diseases following dust and fume exposure at coking plants at sites operated by National Coal Board/British Coal, or its subsidiaries (National Smokeless Fuels, Coal Products) or British Steel or its subsidiaries (including Dorman Long), can contact Irwin Mitchell or Hugh James on 0800 6525524.