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Hazardous wood dust leads to joiner developing occupational asthma
A Staffordshire man who developed occupational asthma after he was exposed to high levels of ‘Western Red Cedar’ sawdust through his work has received £21,000 in an out of court settlement.
Edmund Young, an industrial disease specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said woodworkers are reported to be four times more likely to suffer from occupational asthma than the general working population, and the asthma risks from Western Red Cedar have been known to the industry for many years.
“My client was employed by a joinery that specialises in making greenhouses out of Western Red Cedar,” said Edmund, a partner with the firm. “His job involved making the interior wooden shelves for the structures and it was through his and his colleague’s use of various electric powered tools such as saws, planers, sanders and drills, that he was exposed to extremely high levels of the hazardous wood dust.”
When the man, who is in his 60s, first started his job, he worked on a smallholding where the onsite dust extraction system would need regular emptying by hand and simply consisted of ductwork made from gaffer tape and drainpipes. When the company moved to larger premises, the extraction system was again extremely ineffective and there was very little natural ventilation.
“On a normal working day, my client would cut, saw, drill and assemble wooden shelves while his colleagues would sand wooden components just a few feet away,” said Edmund. “Even with the extraction system working, the air was always swirling with wood dust and the environment in the workshops was such that his hair and clothes were always coated in a thick layer. Every night he went home and took a bath, the water would turn yellow.
“Western Red Cedar wood creates a considerable amount of very fine and highly dangerous sawdust, especially when it is sanded,” added Edmund. “Although the joinery provided staff with disposable paper masks, they were so inadequate my client had to replace his at least twice a day.”
Edmund said that within six to eight months of his client starting work at the new premises, he began suffering from breathlessness, wheezing and nightly coughing fits. In addition, he was unable to run, he was breathless after climbing stairs and he found it extremely difficult even cutting his lawn or doing any DIY work.
“My client’s symptoms would improve on weekends and deteriorate during the week,” said Edmund. “After consulting his GP, he underwent a series of lung function tests and was diagnosed with occupational asthma. Following his diagnosis, he resigned from his job and after he was examined by a Department for Work and Pensions doctor, he was awarded a weekly disability allowance.”
A subsequent Environmental Health inspection at the joinery revealed that poorly designed ductwork was causing some extraction and fan units to fail and that filters were inadequate and were not being emptied at correct intervals. In addition, workers were not properly face-fitted for protective masks and neither were they properly trained or supervised in their use.
“The defendant’s failure to protect their workers and their recurring lack of attention to the condition and performance of their extraction and ventilation systems led to an extremely hazardous working environment,” said Edmund. “Dust from both hardwoods and softwoods are common causes of occupational asthma and dust from Western Red Cedar is infamous for being particularly asthmagenic.
“Whilst my client’s symptoms are gradually improving, he still suffers occasional wheezing and breathlessness,” added Edmund. “However, as a result of the primary care he received, his early referral and the fact that he’s no longer being exposed to wood dust on a daily basis means he has a very good chance of recovery.”
Edmund settled the claim on behalf of his client for £21,000 in February 2013.
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