FORMER coking plant workers in South Yorkshire who developed serious diseases after breathing in harmful dust and fumes could be entitled to compensation following a landmark High Court ruling.
A judge has ordered that workers suffering from lung and skin cancers, as well as conditions such as chronic bronchitis, are entitled to payouts as their illnesses were caused by exposure to by-products emitted from coke ovens.
The ruling was made in the case of eight people who took court action because of breathing in noxious substances at the Phurnacite plant in Aberaman, South Wales.
Hundreds more claims were pending the result of the case, which could now pave the way for many former coking and steel plant workers in South Yorkshire to seek compensation.
Michael Somerset, aged 62, from Catcliffe, was an electrician at Orgreave coking plant, working on and around the industrial ovens and now suffers from terminal lung cancer.
He said the legal finding was ‘good news’ for him and his wife Carol, 56.
“It would definitely help my wife out when I’m not here,” Michael said.
“We don’t get anything to help us.
“You would be a lot more protected now - we were given helmets after a certain time which filtered some of the smoke, but not all of it. There was tar all over the place and you weren’t given any protection.”
He added: “I’m just hanging on now. I’m okay sitting down but once I get up and walk around I’m absolutely shattered.
“I’ve always been quite fit and now I’m just stuck in the house.”
David Urpeth, head of the workplace injury and illness team at Sheffield law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “This is a very significant decision and affects potentially hundreds of former coke oven workers, as well as the families of those who have already passed away.
“We have already been contacted by over 50 people who have been eagerly awaiting this judgement.”
In August, former coke oven workers with lung cancer also became entitled to special disability benefits. That followed a paper issued by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council which found the risk of contracting cancer doubled for employees who worked on the coke ovens for 15 years or more.
Those that worked on the oven top doubled the risk of contracting lung cancer after five years.
Mr Urpeth said: “This is yet another instance where workers are left paying the price of their employers not protecting their health and safety decades ago.”
But High Court judge Mrs Justice Swift also ruled employers were not liable for other illnesses, including bladder and basal cell skin cancer.