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Four Workers Poisoned By Asbestos Decontamination Unit

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Law firm Irwin Mitchell is calling for employers to ensure they follow health and safety regulations after four men suffered serious and potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas boiler while at work.

Paul Wainwright, Richard McKernan, Tony Deakin and Michael Wainwright, all from Sheffield, were working as asbestos removers for Nicol UK Ltd in Huddersfield, when they were poisoned by gasses which leaked from the boiler attached to the decontamination unit which was supposed to protect them.

Anyone working with asbestos is required to go through a decontamination unit to protect them from inhaling asbestos dust, which can cause the fatal lung cancer mesothelioma later in life. The faulty boiler was later condemned by the Health and Safety Executive.

David Urpeth, Partner and National Head of Workplace Injuries at Irwin Mitchell who is representing the group, said: “Running a gas powered decontamination unit with a faulty boiler and without a carbon monoxide detector is inexplicable given the danger posed by carbon monoxide exposure.

“Decontamination units are supposed to protect workers from illness, so it’s unbelievable that my clients have been put in a situation where their lives were endangered by a machine that’s supposed to protect them.

“Employers have a duty to follow strict health and safety procedures and take the necessary precautions to ensure staff can work safely. It’s inexcusable to fail staff on the level my clients were failed here, and I hope the employer makes a swift admission of liability enabling my clients to receive the compensation they need to help them recover.”

As soon as the workers has left the unit they began to feel unwell, and a supervisor from the main contractors immediately took them to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary as they had suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

Richard McKernan said: “When we arrived at the hospital they rushed us straight through A&E and put us all on oxygen and a heart monitor. After we had recovered, the doctor told me that the level of carbon monoxide in my bloodstream had been at 27 per cent, when 35 per cent is critical and 40 per cent fatal.

“We usually spend around 15 minutes in the decontamination unit, but because we had to go through one at a time we were only four or five minutes each to save others from waiting outside.

“It’s terrible to think about what would have happened if we’d been in the unit for longer, if we’d been in there for 15 minutes there’s no way we would have survived.”

Tony Deakin said: “When working with asbestos we always wear protective overalls and masks and go through a three stage decontamination unit whenever we enter or leave site.

“On most sites we use a four-man unit which allows us all to change and shower at the same time, but on this site the chamber was much smaller and only able to hold one man at a time. It was also much older and powered by a gas boiler, when we usually use units powered by electricity.”

All four men used the unit as normal on the day of the accident, but as soon as they exited the unit, Paul Wainwright, Mr McKernan and Mr Deakin all began to feel violently unwell. Michael Wainwright, the first man to pass through the decontamination unit, was unaffected on this occasion but had suffered identical symptoms whilst using the unit the day before.

Michael Wainwright said: “I was the first to go through the unit so escaped poisoning as I passed through before much carbon monoxide had leaked into the unit, but I had suffered the same symptoms after using the unit the day before.

“At that time I was the only one who felt ill so I just went home thinking I had a bug, but when all the lads came out feeling ill I realised there must have been something wrong with the unit.”