Fuel plant workers fight for compensation

Almost 20 years after the closure of a smokeless fuel factory in Wales, workers embarked on a court battle to win compensation for their ill health in May 2009.

The 88-acre British Coal Phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi, a largely jobless area of Wales, employed around 1,200 at its height, producing smokeless fuel briquettes for over 50 years. The briquettes played a part in the government’s endorsement of the 1956 Clean Air act.

However, by the early 1970s people were beginning to recognise the health risks involved with working around the dust and fumes of the coke oven. Lawyers for the former workers maintain that British Coal failed to protect its employees from the known risks.

“Inadequate” protection

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is liable on behalf of British Coal, and rejects the claim that it failed in its duty of protection to its workers. Many of the claimants who are being represented are pursuing the case for loved ones who died from their illnesses.

The claimants are divided into two groups, those who have suffered cancer and those who developed respiratory conditions. Solicitors told the BBC that workers were not “provided with any protection, or when the protection was provided it was too late and totally inadequate,” (BBC News, 2009).

Cancer risk

A study from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh established that Phurnacite employees who worked at the plant between the 1970s and 80s were at higher risk from cancer than the general population, particularly cancer of the lung. “The longer the men worked in these environments, the greater the risk would have been,” said researcher Dr John Cherrie (BBC News, 2009).

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