A 51-year-old former grinder has received a five-figure settlement after developing occupational asthma through more than 25 years of working exposed to harmful metalworking fluids.
Stuart Taylor from Ludlow, Shropshire, spent 22 years working at a local metalworking business, Kennedy Grinding , and 4 years at Premier Sharpening. During his work at Kennedy Grinding, he worked exclusively on grinding machines used to sharpen blades for use in many different industries.
Grinding metals involves a huge amount of friction. To ensure the metal is cool enough to grind properly, it needs metalworking fluid flowing between the grinder and the product to make sure the metal doesn’t burn. When the machine is in operation, this causes the metalworking fluid to spray and become a mist in the air.
The particular machines Stewart worked on were old – they weren’t fitted with guards to prevent spray from the metalworking.
This fluid, when breathed in, can cause long term respiratory complications if the right precautions aren’t in place.
Stewart was a diligent worker, working full-time and also doing 25-30 hours overtime each month. Unknown to him, he was being exposed to even more of the harmful vapours.
A safety inspection carried out in 2003 reported that the extraction systems in place at Kennedy Grinding were ineffective. They recommended that respiratory protection should be worn by all employees until the extraction systems were improved. Basic paper masks were kept in the store cupboard, but the management didn’t enforce mask-wearing, nor did they even recommend it.
Stewart never had any specific training on the use of metalworking fluid or the risks associated with exposure to it. There was no formal health and safety training during his time working there.
While working at Kennedy’s, Stewart noticed that the tanks that held the cutting fluid would only be cleaned out when they ran out of fluid, which took a few months. The fluid would develop a layer of bacteria like a fungus on the surface, and there were jelly-like lumps of bacteria in the tank.
He started experiencing symptoms of breathlessness in 2010, just before he began a new job at a company where he wasn’t exposed to metalworking fluid. He noticed he was becoming short of breath when exerting himself or moving between cold and warm environments.
At the time, he thought it was problems he was having with nasal polyps. It wasn’t until he started a new job at a company called Premier Sharpening, that he noticed his symptoms worsening again. The new company had very little protection from the metalworking fluid. As a new company, they were trying to save money so health and safety fell by the wayside. Conditions were even worse at this company than they were at Kennedy’s.
When his symptoms kept worsening despite antibiotic treatments from his GP, he was signed off work. While he was off, his symptoms began to get better, leading him to the conclusion that the poor working conditions were the cause of his illness. His doctor referred him to the Occupational Lung Disease Unit at the Birmingham Chest Clinic. Consultants at the clinic diagnosed him with occupational asthma and chronic rhinitis as a result of his exposure to the metalworking fluid.
Though his asthma has improved as a result of his medication, he struggles with anxiety. Even things like exercising are worrying to him, as he’s not sure of the consequences of becoming out of breath. He struggles to sleep lying down and needs to sleep sitting up if his chest is bad.
He’s no longer able to take part in outdoor physical activities with his 13 year old son, Callum. His son enjoys biking, which isn’t something Stewart can take part in. They’re able to go fishing together but their relationship has undoubtedly changed since he started struggling with his health.
Stewart contacted our occupational disease solicitors to see if we could help. We investigated his working conditions at Kennedy’s and Premier Sharpening and collected evidence pointing to clear health and safety failings.
However, when we brought a claim against Stewart’s former employers, they both denied responsibility for his illness. We prepared to take the claim to court but successfully negotiated an out-of-court settlement within weeks of our court date.
With the support of our expert team, the settlement he received means the financial stress that came with not working for the past two years has been lifted. He’s now able to focus on his recovery, and spending time with his family.
If you or a loved one has suffered from respiratory problems - such as occupational asthma or silicosis - caused by conditions at work, our solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Industrial Disease Claims page for more information.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of our client.
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