Brave Court Battle For Occupational Asthma Victim Could Help Other Victims, Lawyer Says
A Hereford tool maker who took his battle for justice to court when occupational asthma forced him to quit the job he loved has called on all employers to learn from his tragic story and ensure workers are provided with vital protective clothing to prevent further suffering.
Philip Gundy, 59, had worked at manufacturing firm Timothy Ormerod Ltd since he left school in 1967. But in 2005 he began to experience severe shortness of breath and painful coughing.
A year later doctors told the devastated former Territorial Army volunteer that he had contracted occupational asthma as a result of the chemicals he was exposed to at work, and he was left with no choice but to give up the job he loved.
Now industrial disease specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell who helped Mr Gundy access compensation for his injuries have urged businesses to ensure that health and safety measures are in place to protect their employees from occupational asthma.
The law firm successfully argued that the asthma, which led to the development of hyperventilation syndrome, was caused by exposure to coolant fluid during his employment.
Mr Gundy explained: “My life has been turned upside down by my illness, particularly as it took medical experts the best part of a year to get to the bottom of what had caused me to suffer my initial symptoms.
“The problems have really taken their toll and while the impact does vary from day to day, at worst I struggle to walk 100 yards before feeling breathless.”
Iain Shoolbred, an Associate Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office who represented Mr Gundy, said that trials in claims for occupational asthma are unusual but the firm was always focused on fighting on behalf of its client.
He said: “the Judge ruled not only that Mr Gundy had occupational asthma, but also that his illness was caused by his employer’s failure to operate a safe system of maintaining and monitoring the coolant used in the grinding machines he operated.
“After many years of loyal service at the firm Mr Gundy suffered the double blow of losing the ability to do job that he loved, as well as receiving the news that his work was responsible for his illness. Added to this, having to finish work has caused severe financial hardship.
“It has undoubtedly been a distressing time for him, as he had to attend a hard-fought trial which lasted four days throughout which his employer robustly denied responsibility for his suffering. Shockingly they repeatedly claimed that he did not even have asthma, let alone occupational asthma. We hope that this judgment will raise awareness of occupational asthma and the impact it can have on sufferers and help others in similar situations now, and in the future.
“Businesses always need to pay attention to the health and safety of workers. Otherwise, as this case highlights, there could be serious consequences for both them and their employees.”
Mr Gundy worked for Timothy Ormerod Ltd for a total of 35 years, joining the company as an apprentice. He was regularly involved in working with grinding machines which used metalworking fluids as coolants, used to both reduce heat and dust produced by the grinding process.
In court, Mr Gundy’s employers accepted that they had not monitored the coolant as often as the law required them to. The judge found that it was likely that the fluid had become contaminated with bacteria, which is a known cause of occupational asthma.
Iain explained: “The judge accepted that Mr Gundy’s employers could not rely on a lack of evidence to say there had been no contamination, because they had failed in their legal duty to undertake tests which would have highlighted this.
“This sends a clear message to companies – they need to be actively monitoring materials and substances used in working environments which potentially pose a health risk to workers. It is vital that employers take all necessary steps to comply with their legal duties to protect workers from exposure to substances at work which could harm their health.”
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.