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The Industrial Disease and Illness team at Irwin Mitchell has helped a stonemason who developed lung disease secure a five figure settlement. After inhaling harmful silica dust for decades, Derek Barnes has claimed £47,500 from his former employers who knew the risks but failed to act.
Silica occurs naturally in certain types of stone, brick, sand and clay which, when worked on with industrial tools, forms a fine dust which is easily inhaled. Once inhaled the dust particles are attacked by the immune system, leading to inflammation and scarring which causes the lungs to partly lose function – a long-term lung disease called silicosis.
In 2012 Mr Barnes, from Bristol, was diagnosed with silicosis after working as a stonemason for more than 50 years. His career began in 1966 in Canterbury with a four year apprenticeship when he was just 16 years old.
During his time as an apprentice, Mr Barnes worked on restoring church exteriors using hand tools. Despite the fact that he worked cutting dry silica stone, he was never issued with either overalls or a protective face mask.
Between 1973 and 1976 Derek worked as a qualified stonemason restoring building facades, and worked extensively with limestone, which breaks down into harmful silica dust very easily. Once again he was never issued with any kind of protective clothing or facemask.
In his next two roles, working in South Wales and Bristol, Derek was again exposed to silica dust without any kind of face protection while completing demolition work using hand tools.
Given that silicosis is a long-term illness, it wasn’t until decades later that Mr Barnes was diagnosed with symptoms that include a heavy cough, shortness of breath and persistent weakness and tiredness. Already in his senior years, Derek was told by the doctor that he was likely to see a continued deterioration in his ability to breathe as well as increased chance of lung cancer and tuberculosis.
It was at this point that Derek chose to get in touch with Irwin Mitchell to see if we could help him claim compensation from a range of employers who had repeatedly failed to provide him with any kind of protection.
Our expert industrial disease solicitors argued that Derek's employers were aware of the 1961 Factories Act, which deals with exposure to harmful dust, but still had failed to take adequate steps to protect Mr Barnes and his colleagues.
Derek said: "I was just a boy when I started work and no one ever told me the risks of silica. I never had a mask or overalls. I used to just finish up work for the day, dust myself off a bit and go home still covered in dust. I carried on working in that kind of environment across the four companies completely unaware of the fact that I was still being exposed to crystalline silica dust. It wasn't until 2012 when I started struggling to catch my breath and coughing that I became aware of what was happening day in day out while I was at work. While nothing can turn back the clock now, I'm glad it is settled so I can try and make the most of my life with my family.
Given the life-changing and detrimental effects of silicosis, we were delighted to be able to secure a settlement of £47,500 for Derek so he can enjoy a comfortable quality of life and afford the medical treatments he needs to do so.
Alex Shorey, the expert industrial disease lawyer who represented Mr Barnes, said: "Derek was regularly exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica dust due to the use of power tools and working with stone. Occupational lung diseases have a devastating effect on lives and more regulation and enforcements of such law needs to be put in place. Employers and employees are still not aware of how to protect themselves from the dangers of silica dust and developing this devastating disease. I often work with people whose lives have been shortened by the disease and even though we are able to recover compensation for loss of earnings and the cost of care, when we can never turn back the clock and heal them. I am pleased that we have been able to secure a settlement for Derek, which will hopefully give his family some financial security and help fund his future care as they continue to come to terms with his ailing health."
If you or a loved one has contracted a long-term illness due to unsafe working conditions then get in touch with the Industrial Disease and Illness team at Irwin Mitchell, as you may be eligible to make a claim. Fill in our online enquiry form or call us on 0370 1500 100 to find out more.
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