A school science technician who was exposed to poisonous fumes after staff complaints about a poorly ventilated chemicals’ cupboard were ignored has received compensation.

April Walsh, 34, from Wigton in Cumbria was exposed to bromine fumes while working as a senior science technician at Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle.

The lid on the bottle of bromine was corroded and the fumes were escaping into the small poisons cupboard and beyond into the science prep room where she was working.

The academy had recently moved into a new, purpose-built building, yet the science prep room had a poisons cupboard with inadequate ventilation, there was no properly ventilated fumes cupboard installed and the windows of the room did not open. Firefighters had to smash the windows to allow the fumes to escape.

No action taken, despite staff complaints

For over a year staff had complained to managers about the unsuitability of the room but nothing was done about the problem and they were not given suitable protective equipment or clothing.

When April entered the room she immediately began to suffer from irritated eyes, nose and throat. The room was evacuated and members of staff investigated what was leaking before the fire service was called to make the area safe.

April continued to suffer symptoms of bromine poisoning for several weeks including headaches and a chesty cough.

Bromine poisoning can lead to long term health complaints including lung problems and in serious cases can lead to brain damage. April was extremely anxious about the long term consequences to her health but fortunately has now been given the all clear.

Thompsons Solicitors made personal injury claim for compensation

She contacted her trade union, UNISON, for advice. UNISON instructed its lawyers, Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for compensation. April's legal team argued that the chemical should have been kept in a room with ducted ventilation and that the school should have made steps to rectify the problem as soon as it was highlighted.

Richard Rose Academy admitted liability and settled the claim out of court for £3,500.

April, who has since been made redundant by the Academy, said: “When I realised that my symptoms were caused by bromine poisoning I was terrified about my health. I knew that it could cause long term damage to my lungs and could even cause brain damage. My cough went on for weeks and I was extremely worried that irreversible damage had been done.

“I felt it was important to claim compensation so that steps were made to ensure this type of accident could never happen again.”

Chemical store rooms are hazardous places

Kevan Nelson from UNISON said: “Chemical store rooms are hazardous places which must be closely controlled particularly in a school environment where young people and teachers are at risk of exposure. This was a brand new school building so there was no excuse for not ensuring the room and storage cupboards had adequate ventilation. Additionally staff members had brought up this extremely worrying health and safety concern time and again only for their fears to fall on deaf ears.”

Suzanne Humphries from Thompsons Solicitors added: “This employer had every opportunity to ensure that their premises were fit to cope with this event and they failed to do so, putting the health of their employees at risk. The Academy is lucky that a much more serious accident didn’t happen and that this staff member has not suffered any longlasting ill effects from her exposure.”