Our Industrial Disease lawyers have secured £60,000 in damages for a 64-year-old man who contracted a serious respiratory illness while working for a construction company.
Our client, Mr S, worked as a project manager for Harrabins Construction Ltd. In 2011, the company took on two big projects, one of which was converting an abandoned water tower into luxury apartments.
The project’s quantity surveyor gave Harrabins pre-construction information, which mentioned pigeon droppings as a ‘hazardous material’ at the site. However, Harrabins didn’t look into the matter any further or deal with the problem.
By contrast, the other project – a refurbishment and demolition project– went through a detailed risk assessment, which specifically focused on the pigeons on site. Harrabins provided protective equipment and staff training, and put hygiene measures in place. S said he was ‘amazed’ that the company failed to didn’t take similar measures at the water tower.
The pigeons were a big problem in the water tower and they’d roosted there since the 1970s. This meant that by the time the project started, there was a significant build-up of droppings and dead birds inside the tower.
Mr S’s involvement with the water tower started in October 2011, when he had to fit new locks onto the front door. He started project managing just after Christmas 2011, and he worked around 50 hours a week on site.
Much of the work done in the tower, such as putting up scaffolding and cutting holes for windows, caused a lot of mess. There was dust, pigeon droppings and the bodies of dead birds, resulting in an environment that was ‘absolutely filthy’.
Another issue was a pair of peregrine falcons who regularly came to breed in the water tower. Harrabins had to finish the scaffolding before falcon breeding season started, creating added pressure for the project. To save time, Harrabins didn’t deep clean the tower before putting up the scaffolding.
Mr S also claimed that Harrabins didn’t give him the right protective equipment or the appropriate training. While a contractor gave their employees overalls and respirators, Harrabins only gave Mr S disposable paper overalls and paper filter masks.
These paper masks just had a single filter fitted and became useless after about 20 minutes of wear. Mr S also said that the mask would fall off when he sweated, which happened often while climbing up and down the scaffold ladders.
On one occasion, Harrabins did bring in a pest controller who shot 100 pigeons, but Mr S said this did little to solve the problem.
Mr S first developed a cough around November 2011. At the same time he also started to suffer from breathlessness while working in the tower. His cough became so bad when climbing the ladders that it would make him physically sick.
Mr S saw his GP on the 25th of November 2011, who prescribed an inhaler. It made no difference to his symptoms. Mr S put his cough down to him ‘catching a chill’. But by January 2012, the cough had got a lot worse.
His GP referred him to hospital, where the doctor suspected he may be suffering from hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as ‘bird fancier’s lung’. This is a respiratory illness which can be linked to exposure to dry bird droppings and feathers.
Test results confirmed the diagnosis in March 2015.The scans also revealed that Mr S had developed pulmonary fibrosis - permanently damaged lung tissue that makes it hard to breathe.
In October 2016, Harrabins made Mr S redundant. He planned to work until he was 65 but his redundancy meant he needed to take money out of his private pension. S hoped his respiratory problems would get better after he stopped working, but they didn’t improve.
S always had good health but his illness had a significant impact on his life, severely restricting the physical activity he could do. When he got up in the morning, he founds that he coughed up phlegm, and by 3pm he was already tired. His wife, who still worked full time, took over all the gardening and DIY, as well as the majority of everyday household tasks.
Mr S said he was ‘left extremely disappointed and frustrated’ that Harrabins showed ‘little to no interest or concern’ for his health, despite 10 years of loyal service. After a lengthy legal battle, the defendant agreed to a settlement two weeks before the case was due to go to trial.
Associate solicitor Alex Shorey, who handled the case, said: "Employers who fail to protect their employees from occupational hazards can easily put a lot of people at risk. In the case of Mr S, his employer didn’t exercise their duty of care and as a result he has been left with a life-limiting condition. While nothing can change the damage that’s been done, I was pleased we reached a settlement which will help to compensate Mr S for the ordeal he experienced.”
If you or a loved one has developed a respiratory issue as a result of your workplace, we could help you claim compensation. Visit our Industrial Disease page for more information.
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