Machine operator awarded damages for lack of protection against a chemical health hazard, which led to an early end to his career.
A former factory worker developed an extensive skin irritation, painful cough and eventually, severe asthma attacks after several months of working on a grinding machine at a car parts manufacturer. A visit to the doctor confirmed a diagnosis of occupational asthma and dermatitis, attributed to inhaling metal grinding compound.
Exposure to the hard metal dust from a chemical element used in the grinding process is known to cause lung fibrosis as well as asthma, shortness of breath, and impaired lung function. Sustained periods of exposure may also result in contact dermatitis.
Despite of the potential serious health risks of working with the grinding compound, the machine operator had not been issued with any personal protection equipment (PPE) as required under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations, 1992.
No longer able to carry out his work
The machine worker was then moved to operate the company presses instead, which were also located in the same area of the factory as the grinding machines. Two PPE suits and masks were now issued to him while working on the presses.
However, the operator was unable wear the equipment for any length of time because it restricted movement and breathing. No longer able to carry out his work, employment at the factory was terminated, which led to the operator starting a claim for compensation. A subsequent investigation found that the company had failed to carry out a full risk assessment to ensure the factory supplied adequate extraction fans and ventilation, as well as failing to provide staff with suitable PPE.
The machine operator said that he had “never suffered from chest or skin problems before working at the factory” and his dermatitis has eased since leaving. However, the worker still suffers with breathlessness and wheezing, which he believes will affect him for the rest of his life.