More than 300 former coke oven workers are taking legal action against British Steel and British Coal in a battle for justice for cancers and respiratory diseases they are now suffering because of exposure to harmful dust and fumes decades ago.
A landmark judgment against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court last year paved the way for legal action in areas particularly badly affected including Porth, Coed Ely, Newport, Caerphilly, Shotton and Port Talbot, as well as other regions in and around the North East of England where coking and steel plants were particularly prominent.
Today law firms Hugh James and Irwin Mitchell confirmed they had jointly issued a letter of claim against British Coal and British Steel on behalf of 300 former coke oven workers who became ill after working at coking plants and steel works across the country.
The majority of workers were employed in a range of occupations at the coke works between the 1940s and 1980s and suffered with various respiratory illnesses, including lung cancers, emphysema, COPD, chronic bronchitis and asthma. Many have now since died as a result of their condition.
Lawyers from the two firms have sent letters of claim to both the British Steel Corporation and British Coal Corporation and their subsidiaries outlining allegations that both companies:
- failed to correctly assess the risks of working on coke ovens; and
- failed to adequately protect workers from the significant dust and fumes generated.
The letters of claim also asks the defendants to agree to a limitation amnesty – removing strict time deadlines for bringing a usual workplace illness case – which would ensure that all those affected could get access to the justice they deserve.
Kathryn Singh, of Hugh James, said: “Sadly this is yet another instance where workers are left paying the price of their employers not protecting their health and safety decades ago.
“We now hope that the defendants will work with us to resolve our clients’ cases quickly and amicably.”
Roger Maddocks, a specialist workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, added: “Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis. Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.
“Sadly, in these cases, the workers have been affected by very serious and in some cases terminal illnesses just because of the air they breathed at work. We have repeatedly called for improvements to safety in the workplace and will continue to campaign for the rights of the victims we represent.”