£200,000 pay-out in asthmatic cook case

Birmingham City Council found liable for ex-school cook’s asthmatic

A former school cook has won almost £200,000 compensation from Birmingham
City Council after occupational asthma forced her to leave her job.

Mary Watkins started to have difficulties with breathlessness and tightening
of the chest in 1989 as the result of being exposed to large, uncovered mixers
of flour. Her condition deteriorated over a five-year period until she found it
difficult to walk any distance.

"My job was my life, but it was killing me," she said. "I
have moved to a bungalow because I can’t manage stairs.

"I hope my case will encourage others who suffer from work-related
asthma to do something about it."

Unison regional secretary Valerie Broom said, "I am pleased that
Birmingham council admitted liability but it is a sad fact that if they had
taken action earlier Mary’s asthma could have been prevented. The ruling
underlines the need to carry out proper risk assessments, as Mary was left to
work day after day in an extremely dusty environment.

"Measures should have been taken to provide adequate ventilation,
personal protection and to ensure that equipment was working efficiently. The
case shows employers need to take the risk of asthma seriously to prevent
further tragedies."

In Watkins’ case, not only was no proper risk assessment carried out, but
Watkins was discouraged from opening the one small window in the confined space
in which she worked and was never provided with any means of ventilation.

When her GP advised her to wear a face mask she bought one from a chemist.
And although her employers were informed she had done this they did not check
to see if it was suitable – it wasn’t.

The settlement sum is one of the largest for occupational asthma according
to Watkins’ lawyer Warinder Juss of Thompsons, adding that this was largely
because of how badly she has been affected.

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