Dinner ladies receive compensation after carbon monoxide poisoning

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Dinner ladies receive compensation after carbon monoxide poisoning

30th May 2012

A group of school dinner ladies who suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning because of faulty kitchen equipment have won their fight for compensation.

The four women, who worked together at the same primary school, have each received damages in an out of court settlement following a three year legal battle. Simon Alexander, a specialist in occupational illness  claims with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said that the dinner ladies had approached him after they realised they had been exposed to the potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas every day for years.

“These women all worked as cooks and spent several hours each day in the kitchens preparing food for the young pupils,” said Simon. “Over the years they had worked there - which was more than a decade for two of my clients - they had each suffered a variety of symptoms including headaches, nausea, lethargy, and recurrent colds and coughs.”

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but being colourless, odourless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Simon said that none of the women had ever suspected they were suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning until comments made by an engineer during a routine inspection of the kitchen equipment.

“It was around 2003, and the engineer asked the cooks whether they had been suffering from headaches,” he said. “When they all said that they were, the engineer said that the ventilation in the kitchen was very poor. But despite this, and despite the complaints made by the cooks to the management at the school, no changes or improvements were ever made. When the same engineer returned three years later he said he could not believe that nothing had been done to improve the ventilation.”

Some months later, following a further letter of complaint about the conditions, another engineer inspected the kitchens. “This time the engineer said that he needed to test the carbon monoxide levels,” said Simon. “His tests showed that the levels were very high, and the kitchen was immediately shut down.”

The cooks were instructed not to use the kitchen appliances, and instead would prepare and cook meals at a nearby school before transporting them to their own school.

“For years, each one of my clients had been experiencing a catalogue of symptoms without once suspecting the cause,” said Simon. “These symptoms tended to subside over the weekends and especially during school holidays, but it was only when the engineers condemned the kitchen appliances they realised they had been working in a literally poisonous environment for all those years.

“Employers have a duty of care to ensure that any work environment is safe for their employees, and is not likely to cause illness or in any other way harm their health,” said Simon. “Despite making complaints to the management, these ladies were continually exposed to dangerous gas and their employers evidently paid scant regard to the concerns that were raised. Now that the case has settled they can all move on from this unpleasant experience.”

Following lengthy negotiations, Simon settled the claims on behalf of each of his clients for £12,250, £11,250, £5,500 and £5,500, dependent on their length of exposure and severity of symptoms.

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of industrial diseases and occupational illnesses.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.