A council blacksmith who developed asthma when he was exposed to dangerous fumes in the workplace has been awarded compensation by the courts after help from his trade union.

Simon Litherland, 47, from Darnall in Sheffield was initially offered just £16,000 in compensation by Sheffield County Council despite his condition meaning he could no longer work in his trade.

After help from his trade union, the GMB and its lawyers Thompson Solicitors he was awarded £104,000 in damages when the case went to court.

Exposed to metalworking fluids at work

Mr Litherland was diagnosed with the condition after he was exposed to fumes from metalworking fluids, used to help cut metal, despite the council knowing they caused respiratory problems.

Mr Litherland was a trained blacksmith and worked for Sheffield County Council all his working life but began to suffer from breathlessness in 2005. The council introduced the metalworking fluids in 2000 but from 2004 his job required him to use the fluids more often.

At first his GP said he was suffering from a chest infection and later he was prescribed inhalers but in July 2007 he was diagnosed with occupational asthma caused by the metalworking fluids.

The asthma means that he has a 35% respiratory disability and has had to give up his trade as a blacksmith. He is now working in a temporary clerical role for the council but medical experts have said if he lost his job he would never be able to work again.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

Following his diagnosis he contacted his trade union, the GMB, for advice and instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim for compensation.

Whilst Sheffield County Council admitted they were to blame, their initial offer to settle the claim was just £16,000, even though Mr Litherland’s health had been compromised for life. Thompsons advised fighting the case in court and he was ultimately awarded £104,000 by a judge.

Mr Litherland’s condition means he finds it difficult to climb stairs and walk. He’s had to give up his hobbies of playing golf and stage managing amateur dramatics.

He said: “I’d never had any problems with my breathing before but when I started working with the fluids more I began to suffer from a cough. I thought it was just my age but my condition got progressively worse.

“I now have two inhalers which I’ve been told I’m likely to need the rest of my life. Fortunately I’m now in a role where my asthma is more or less under control but I know that this job is only temporary and if it comes to an end I’m unlikely to work again. I find that prospect terrifying – I have worked all my life and until this came along I rarely, if ever, had a day off sick. It’s a great relief to know that I have this compensation to cover me if things get worse as I am only 47.”

Exposed to dangerous chemicals on a daily basis

Tim Roache from the GMB added: “Asthma can be life changing and has been for our member Simon. Sheffield County Council could easily have had measures in place to make sure that Mr Litherland was protected against these noxious fumes. They failed to do that and then thought they could buy off his claim for £16,000 when the health, livelihood and future employability of a relatively young man has been severely restricted.”

Anthony Duffy from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Sheffield County Council had serious shortcomings in its health and safety procedures which meant our client was exposed to dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. He has developed a lifelong condition which must be controlled by medication and his future employment is at risk.

“This case shows how trade union legal services will fight until the end on behalf of union members to ensure the best possible outcome in their case.”