High Court date for ex-British Coal workers who developed cancer

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Former British Coal workers from South Yorkshire who developed cancer and breathing problems as a result of their working conditions will be back in court this month as their legal action moves forward.

More than 350 ex-coke oven workers from across the country, including people who worked at British Coal sites in Sheffield, Barnsley and Wath-upon-Dearne, are involved in the group litigation.

A High Court date has now been set for July 28 to review their application for a group litigation order.

If successful, it will allow the claims to be considered as a group with a number of clients chosen as ‘test’ cases for the litigation.

Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James want to begin action against British Coal, Coal Products Limited and National Smokeless Fuels Limited after hundreds of workers suffered illness following exposure to dust and fumes at a number of coking plants around the country, including in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Scotland, the North East and South Wales.

Roger Maddocks, a partner and expert industrial illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The application for a Group Litigation Order against British Coal is the latest in a long line of important milestones in the fight for justice for former coke oven workers and the families who have lost loved ones who worked at these plants.”

“We regularly see cases where people have developed serious and in some cases fatal cancers and respiratory diseases as a result of the failures of their employers to ensure they were not breathing in hazardous substances during their working day. Every worker has the right to be able to go to work every day without the fear of exposure to fumes and materials that could cause them serious health issues.

“These workers have been failed by their employers. As a result they and their families have endured significant suffering, which is absolutely unacceptable as their illnesses were entirely preventable.

“Over the past two years we have been working to gather the evidence needed to ensure every worker affected by the poor management of risks in the coking industry will have their opportunity for justice. The application for a Group Litigation Order is another step towards this and one that we hope will help to provide answers and closure for the individuals involved, as well as their families.”

Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James are also currently investigating several hundred similar claims for former British Steel employees and similar action is contemplated in respect of their claims shortly.

The cases against British Coal and British Steel were able to proceed following rulings in a test case in October 2012 related to National Coal’s operation of a Phurnacite plant in South Wales.

It was ruled that British Coal had failed to protect workers against inhalation of dust and fumes, with protection only being introduced in 1981 after workers had been exposed for a number of decades.

Former coke oven workers also became entitled to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit in August 2012, after a paper from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in September 2011 found the risk of contracting lung cancer increased significantly where employees had spent more than 5 years working on the tops of coke ovens or 15 years working on or around the ovens.

At a hearing held in October 2014, the High Court was informed of the progress of the claims against British Coal and British Steel and details of the group actions being prepared against the companies were outlined.