Nearly 80 ex-Longbridge workers have won up to £1 million after a seven-year battle following the world’s largest outbreak of occupational lung disease.
A total of 79 former employees at the Powertrain engine plant who brought claims for compensation have received awards ranging from £500 up to £180,000.
The victory for the former workers follows a seven-year plus legal fight dating back to Easter 2003 when exposure to metalworking fluids led to increasing numbers of staff illnesses, including severe breathing difficulties.
In 2006 the Health and Safety Executive revealed that mist from metal-working machines had caused the disease outbreak, which had led to a total of more than 100 workers being afflicted.
The HSE said the metalworking fluids had not been maintained sufficiently, allowing the build-up and continued growth of bacteria and other potentially harmful substances.
Personal injury claims of occupational asthma against the insurers of MG Rover were pursued and a civil case had been listed for trial in May next year – but an out-of-court settlement has now been reached following lengthy negotiations.
The union Unite said in a statement: “All claims have now been settled, the total damages paid by the defendant is a little under £1 million, individual settlements ranging from £500 to £180,000 for the claimants.”
John Walsh, of Unite, said: “I am delighted that after a seven-year legal battle our members have now received compensation that has been owed to them since they suffered ill-health back in 2003-04; it is a pity that it has taken this long.”
Karl de Loyde, of Thompsons solicitors, said: “We invited the defendants’ legal team to meet us and negotiate settlement back in 2006.
“They refused and have denied liability throughout. It was only after the final exchange of technical expert evidence that the defendants were forced to acknowledge they were likely to lose at trial, and were forced to negotiate with us."
Powertrain was the former engine-building division of MG Rover, based in the East Works at Longbridge. Metalworking fluids were used in the manufacturing process, supplied by independent contractor Houghton.
Powertrain subsequently brought a separate legal claim against Houghton, based on allegations of breach of contract that the firm had failed to ensure the fluids were safe for use.
In 2007 the HSE said 87 workers had been struck down with occupational asthma and a further 24 with extrinsic allergic alveolitis, with the worst affected hit by both diseases.
The Government subseqently agreed to amend legislation, allowing the alveolitis sufferers to pursue claims for compensation.
Expert evidence was obtained which established that Powertrain did not have any adequate risk assessments in place to address harmful substances, that the defendants’ management of its metalworking fluids was inadequate and that significant bacteria was allowed to build up and be released to the factory atmosphere.
Employees had complained for years about the levels of mist and a pungent “ammonia-type” smell.