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High Court To Review Progress Of 350 Former Coke Oven Workers Illness Claims

Victims Suffering From Respiratory Illness Across The UK Join Forces In Large Group Case


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

A date has been set for the High Court to review the progress of around 350 former coke oven workers illness claims against British Steel and British Coal in a battle for justice for cancers and respiratory diseases they are now suffering because of exposure to harmful dust and fumes decades ago.

Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James are working jointly on two large group litigation claims against British Coal and British Steel on behalf of around 350 former coke oven workers who became ill after working at coking plants and steel works across the country. Formal legal action was commenced in October last year and the High Court has confirmed that it will review the progress of claims on 16th October 2014.

A landmark judgment against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court in 2012 paved the way for legal action in other regions with areas particularly badly affected including Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Humberside, the North East and Corby in Northampton and South Wales  where coking and steel plants were particularly prominent.

The majority of workers were employed in a range of occupations at the coke works between the 1940s and 1980s and suffered with various respiratory illnesses, including lung cancers, emphysema, COPD, chronic bronchitis and asthma as well as skin cancers. Many have now since died as a result of their condition.

Lawyers allege that the British Steel Corporation and British Coal Corporation and their subsidiaries:

  • failed to correctly assess the risks of working on coke ovens; and
  • failed to adequately protect workers from the significant dust and fumes generated.

Roger Maddocks, a specialist workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis. Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.

“Sadly, in these cases, the workers have been affected by very serious and in some cases terminal illnesses just because of the air they breathed at work. We have repeatedly called for improvements to safety in the workplace and will continue to campaign for the rights of the victims we represent.

“Over the past year we have been gathering evidence and the claims of people affected are progressing well. Although many details remain to be worked out we are confident that we will be able to establish that British Coal and British Steel were in breach of duty in and that the consequential exposure to dust and fume in was responsible for the development of illness in many cases. This would pave the way for fair settlements.”

Gareth Morgan, Partner at Hugh James, said: “Time and time again, we hear of cases where workers have been left paying the price of their employers not protecting their health and safety decades ago. We welcome news that a date has been set and hope that our clients’ cases will be resolved quickly and amicably.”


In a series of test cases in 2012 at the High Court against the National Coal operating the Phurnacite plant near Aberaman in South Wales, the Court ruled that the Coal Board had not taken all practicable measures to protect employees from the inhalation of dust and fumes at the site. The company finally introduced proper respiratory protection around 1981 but workers had already been exposed to dangerous chemicals for decades.

In August 2012, former coke oven workers with lung cancer also became entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit, subject to meeting certain employment related criteria.

This followed a paper issued by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in September 2011 which found that the risk of contracting lung cancer doubled for those employees who worked on the coke ovens for 15 years or more. Those that worked on the oven top doubled the risk of contracting lung cancer after only five years of employment.

Anyone who has developed skin cancer, lung cancer or other respiratory diseases after exposure to dust and fume over a number of years whilst working at a coking plant, or who has information about conditions at any coking plant operated by National Coal Board/ British Coal, or its subsidiaries (National Smokeless Fuels, Coal Products) or British Steel or its subsidiaries (including Dorman Long), is asked to contact Irwin Mitchell or Hugh James on 0800 6525524.

If you worked extensively on or around coke ovens and have since become ill, our industrial disease & illness claims solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Coke Oven Workers Compensation page for more information.

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