A former factory worker has secured £40,000 in compensation after he developed occupational asthma and dermatitis following exposure to a chemical at work.

The Unite member from Bedworth worked for car parts producer Federal Mogul as an operator on a grinding machine. During his employment, he developed a skin irritation on his hands and arms, which then spread to his cheeks, forehead, neck and ears.

After several months of working on the grinding machine he also developed a painful cough and suffered bouts of breathlessness. However, his symptoms would ease when he was away from the factory.

His health deteriorated so much so that he suffered from asthma attacks, which would last for up to two hours. The attacks prompted to him to seek medical advice.

The Unite member was diagnosed with occupational asthma and dermatitis, which doctors attributed to his exposure to Cobalt – a chemical element that was used in the grinding machine at the factory. Federal Mogul did not provide its employees with any personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against the risks of a reaction to Cobalt.

The man was moved from operating the grinding machine to work on the company’s presses, but the presses were in the same area of the factory as the grinder.

He was given two PPE suits and masks to trial while working on the presses but because they restricted both movement and breathing he could not wear them for any length of time. Ultimately his employment at the factory was terminated as he could not carry out his work.

He got in touch with Unite Legal Services who instructed industrial disease specialists, Thompsons Solicitors, to pursue a claim of compensation.

Thompsons’ investigations found that Federal Mogul had failed to carry out a full risk assessment to ensure that the factory had adequate ventilation and extraction fans, and had failed to provide staff with suitable PPE.

The Unite member said: “I had never suffered from chest or skin problems before working at the factory, I was healthy and in good shape. Thankfully, my dermatitis has eased since leaving the factory but I still suffer with breathlessness and wheezing, especially in the winter. These symptoms are likely to affect me for the rest of my life.

“I’m very grateful for the support and advice I’ve had from Unite Legal Services and Thompsons Solicitors. The compensation cannot make up for me losing my job but it does mean that my employer has had to take responsibility for my exposure to Cobalt.”

Peter Coulson, from Unite the Union, said: “Cobalt is a known hazardous substance and if a proper workplace assessment had been carried out, our member’s health complaints could have been avoided.

“Supplying protective equipment really is one of the most basic requirements for any employer exposing its staff to potential harm at work. Unfortunately, Federal Mogul tried to address these health problems too late, which led to the premature end to a career and long lasting health problems.”