A Unite the Union member who developed a painful skin condition from being exposed to irritants at work has received compensation after help from the union's legal service.

The 49-year-old from Birmingham developed dermatitis after he was exposed to excessive oil in his role as a press setter for LTI Ltd in Coventry.

During his job he spent most of his time working on a press which was known for leaking oil into the press bed. His role involved applying pins in the press bed and as a result his hand was covered in oil for most of his shifts.

He worked many years in these conditions but in 2008 things deteriorated when he had to work the press on his own. He asked for specialist Kevlar gloves, which were supplied, but they needed to be replaced regularly.

Employers refused to provide replacement gloves

His employers refused to provide replacement gloves because they were so expensive.

As a result of the conditions he started to develop red and itchy hands which began to crack and become extremely painful. He was provided with steroid cream by his GP and told that his condition was caused by his work.

In July 2010 he was moved to another job as a forklift truck driver where he is no longer in contact with the oil. His hands have largely cleared up but if he comes in contact with irritants his condition can flare up again.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

Following his diagnosis he was supported by Unite Legal Services which instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for compensation.

Thompsons argued that the member should have been provided with a more regular change of gloves and that his job should have been rotated so he wasn't exposed to excessive amounts of oil.

LTI Limited did not admit liability but settled the claim out of court for £10,000.

The Unite member said: “My hands have more or less cleared up now but every so often I still get a reaction. They become red and itchy and painful but I find it embarrassing more than anything as my hands are covered in large cracks and people ask me about it. I asked on several occasions for more Kevlar gloves but was told that they were too expensive. It seemed to me that saving a few pounds on gloves was more important than my health.”

Importance of employers providing employees with the correct protective equipment

Peter Coulson from Unite the Union said: “This case highlights the importance of employers providing employees with the correct protective equipment to keep them safe in their jobs. With a regular supply of fit for purpose gloves this member would never have developed this skin condition. Additionally a system of job rotation would have further reduced his exposure to the oil.

“This is a success for Unite Legal Services and all our members should take some comfort from knowing that our legal services are at hand to act for members and their families.”

John Mullen from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Occupational dermatitis is a common problem in this type of environment but the risk of employees developing the condition can be greatly reduced by the provision of the correct protective wear and by minimising exposure in the first place. This member will be sensitive to irritants for the rest of his life and as a result will have to be very careful when working in environments where his hands are at risk of flaring up again.”