More than one hundred workers at the former Phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi in South Wales will be entitled to claim for compensation following a test case at the High Court in which four Phurnacite workers claims were upheld.
The test cases were part of a Group Litigation Order on behalf of 183 former employees of British Coal, who had contracted illnesses allegedly due to working at the Abercwmboi site where waste coal was processed into smokeless fuel. The work-related illnesses ranged from lung cancer and respiratory diseases to skin and bladder cancer, and were caused – according to the claim for Phurnacite workers compensation – from working in conditions which were described in court as the “dirtiest in Europe”.
The Phurnacite workers claims were taken against the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who now have liability for claims made against British Coal, and alleged that British Coal had breached its statutory duties for health and safety. It was stated in the High Court that “dust and fumes to which men were regularly exposed contained substances which were known to be harmful, indeed carcinogenic.”
After hearing testimony in relation to the working conditions at the plant, Mrs Justice Swift found there was convincing evidence that diseases of the lung, namely Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer could be caused by the dust and fumes produced during the manufacturing process of the Phurnacite briquettes. However, there was insufficient evidence to link the instances of skin and bladder cancer to the working environment.
The judge said in her summation “I decided that the operators of the plant were in breach of statutory duties owed to their employees throughout the period of its operation. There were many measures that they could have taken to minimise or eliminate altogether the risks to their workforce had they chosen to do so”. Mrs Justice Swift made awards of compensation of between 4,500 pounds and 120,000 pounds to the four Phurnacite workers claims.
The judge´s ruling not only opens the door for the other qualifying former Phurnacite workers to make claims for compensation, but also for hundreds of other former British Coal employees throughout the country who have developed work-related illnesses due to their working conditions. Settlements of Phurnacite workers compensation will be calculated on the extent of the individual´s injury and the consequence the injury has made to the claimant´s quality of life.