£50,000 victory for pensioner after cotton dust caused lung disease

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£50,000 victory for pensioner after cotton dust caused lung disease

7th January 2010

A pensioner from Oldham has been awarded more than £50,000 after a lifetime working in cotton mills left him with a devastating lung disease.

John Barnes, 72, spent fifty years operating, repairing and carrying out maintenance on machinery in cotton mills, unaware that the dust he was breathing in every day would lead to a condition known as byssinosis.

"I'd suffered from chest complaints for a number of years and had been treated for asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for some time," said Mr Barnes, of Oldham. "From about 1997, I spent a great deal of time going to and from the doctors to try and discover why I was so short of breath."

Mr Barnes, who freely admits to being a lifelong smoker, always assumed that his problems related to his asthma or his already diagnosed, smoking-related COPD.

"Then my health deteriorated even further," he said. "In the summer of 2004 I went on a family holiday to Benidorm, but the day we arrived I was taken into hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. I spent four days in hospital as a result. The doctor told me that I was prone to more infections due to my asthma and COPD, but there was no hint that I was suffering from a more serious condition."

Over the next few years, Mr Barnes' health continued to deteriorate. He lost more than forty pounds in weight, and in 2007 was referred to the Oldham Royal Infirmary.

"This was the first time anyone had asked me about my work history," said Mr Barnes. "The doctor told me that as well as suffering COPD and asthma, I might also have this other condition."

In March 2008, Mr Barnes was diagnosed with byssinosis, an occupational lung disease which causes coughing, wheezing, tightening of the chest and shortness of breath.

"I was devastated when I received the news," said Mr Barnes. "I'd always been a fit man - I used to play semi-professional football for Oldham Athletic under George Hardwick in the 1950s. Now, I have to take a handful of medication every day, and I rely on oxygen and a nebulizer at home."

Mr Barnes said he can now go nowhere without his wife of 52 years, Hilda, aged 70.

"I'm unable to walk for more than 50 yards on a flat surface without having to take a break," he said. "I can't walk up any kind of incline without gasping for breath, and I've been hospitalised on a number of occasions. I'm told that I have a respiratory disability of between 80 and 90 per cent."

Lesley Mynett, an industrial disease specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said Mr Barnes had been exposed to cotton dust throughout his career, firstly at a cotton mill in the 1950s and early 1960s, and then during his 38-year stint at Werneth Ring Mills in Oldham.

"From 1964 until 2002, he spent each day at the mills in Henley Street, working in both the opening (or blowing) room and the carding room," said Miss Mynett.

"The processes carried out in these departments created massive amounts of cotton dust which filled the atmosphere and accumulated on floors, machinery and internal surfaces," she said. "John would be covered in dust - from his boots to his hair - breathing it in, every day."

Miss Mynett said Mr Barnes's condition was manageable, but not curable. "All John did was go to work," she said. "Now he and Hilda have to live with this terrible disease for the rest of their lives."

Mr Barnes pursued a claim for compensation against his former employers, and was awarded damages of £52,782.

"The compensation will not help cure John's health problems, but it will allow him and his family to secure the help they need to deal with his condition," said Miss Mynett.

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

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.