A paint shop supervisor exposed to such high levels of chemicals in a poorly-ventilated Cambridge factory that he developed a life-long chronic illness has won ‘significant’ compensation.

Adam Coventon, from Royston in Hertfordshire, was employed by Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd, which has been separately prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive on the same issue.

Mr Coventon, who worked in the factory for five years, developed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) after being exposed to the chemical, trichloroethylene, because his employer failed to properly install a new piece of machinery.

No warning of the hazard and no protective equipment

A degreasing tank used to clean scientific instruments before they were sprayed was poorly installed and didn’t seal properly allowing trichloroethylene to leak into the poorly-ventilated room where Adam worked alone. He received no warning of the hazard and no protective equipment.

Six months after the new degreasing tank was installed Adam developed breathing difficulties, chronic shakes and fatigue. His GP recorded a 20 per cent decrease of lung function and referred him to a specialist consultant who then identified a lack of lucidity and well-being.

“This should never have happened,” said Corrina Mottram of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Adam. “Given this was a company used to dealing with dangerous chemicals who should have known of the risks and the strict rules surrounding their use, this level of chemical exposure was almost unprecedented. The injuries which Adam has suffered are extremely life-limiting and have affected what he is able to do on a day-to-day basis.

“The employers tried to distance themselves from Adam’s illness arguing that it was not connected with the exposure, our medical evidence showed they were wrong.”

Contacted Thompsons Solicitors Chelmsford office

Adam contacted Thompsons Solicitors Chelmsford office for advice on where he stood and when Thompsons wrote to the employers they denied that the excessive levels of trichloroethylene had caused Adam’s health problems which meant Thompsons issued court proceedings.

Corrina Mottram said: “Both the leaking degreasing tank and the poor ventilation were basic safety issues that Prior Scientific Instruments could have addressed without much cost. Instead they failed to do so until after Adam fell ill which is unacceptable.

“This is yet another case which shows the importance of strict health and safety standards which the government seeks to dismiss as ‘red tape’.”

Adam has not been able to return to work since his diagnosis and the severity of his symptoms limit him in everyday tasks. Four years after the chemical exposure, Adam takes daily medication to help manage his muscle spasms and control the pain associated with them. He will be dependent on them for the rest of his life.

Investigation by the Health and Safety Executive

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Prior Scientific Instruments did not provide suitable equipment to adequately remove the hazardous fumes from the workplace, especially where items were left to dry.

A HSE prosecution was successful and Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd, of Wilbraham Road, Fulbourn, Cambridge were fined £9,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,852 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants of West Street, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire who had been employed by Prior Scientific Instruments as a health & safety consultant was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,000 after also pleading guilty to other Health and Safety at Work Act breaches.