A woman has won £50,000 in damages after her hands bled and blistered due to excessive handwashing.
Susan Robinson worked at Speedibake in Wakefield, west Yorkshire, which makes muffins, cupcakes, and mince pies for supermarket chains.
Within six months of starting her job, she noticed her hands had become red and itchy, and over time her symptoms got worse to the extent she was blistering and bleeding.
She visited a hospital, where it was confirmed she had contracted dermatitis due to her skin’s exposure to chemicals. Because she was washing her hands 17 times a day at work, her skin’s natural protective barrier had broken down.
Robinson asked her employer for hand protection and offered her own suggestions such as barrier creams and thinner gloves, but claimed her employer did not deal with the matter properly due to fears of contamination.
She approached her union, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and law firm Thompsons to support a claim for compensation, and was granted £50,000.
In February 2020, a fire at the Wakefield factory meant it needed to close, and while most staff were transferred to the company’s Bradford site, Robinson was made redundant.
Her lawyer Clare Timmons from Thompsons said: “Of course, it’s imperative that high hygiene standards are maintained, but it should never be at the cost of an employee’s health.
“Speedibake could have, and should have, responded to this by taking Susan off the line as soon as she began to report symptoms and giving her other duties until they could support her safe return to the line.
This is yet another example of how employers who cut corners can really endanger the health and well-being of their employees” – Clare Timmons, law firm Thompsons
“Mrs Robinson never wanted to go through the pain and suffering and the fact that she was made redundant, specifically because she was pursuing the claim from an injury they caused, is shocking.”
Sarah Woolley from the BFAWU said cases such as this were not uncommon and that “profit overrode a worker’s health”.
“Speedibake should be ashamed of itself for failing to deal with a terrible situation for Susan that had been repeatedly confirmed was caused by her work.
“We were proud to support the claim and ensured she got the maximum compensation owed to her and held Speedibake to account for its significant failings.”
A spokesperson from Speedibake said: “As food producers we have strict hygiene standards that we have to maintain, which presented challenges in this particular case due to the essential hand cleansing and sanitising products that our employees need to use.
“Following the devastating fire that destroyed our Wakefield Bakery in February 2020, we were faced with the difficult decision of how to allocate a very limited number of roles in our Bradford Bakery. While we regret the outcome of this situation, given the circumstances, we believe we acted responsibly and in good faith at all times.”