Martin Smith from Bournemouth, Dorset, had been working for Primetals Technologies Ltd, based in London, when he was sent on a workplace foreign deployment to India in April 2019.

This particular trip took place shortly after Mr Smith, 62, had returned to work following a period of time off due to ill health largely connected to his Crohn’s disease - an inflammatory condition that affects the bowels.

While his condition continued to impact his life and he remained under constant review by experts at Poole Hospital, in January 2019, he obtained a fitness to work certificate from his GP and resumed his role as a site systems engineer.

However, due to his ongoing health challenges, the decision was made for him to return in a part-time capacity only, and that he would work from home.

Despite this, just three months later, in March, his employer made the decision to send him on a week-long assignment to India.

A highly experienced sites systems engineer who had worked for the company for more than 25 years, and often working abroad for up to six months at a time, Mr Smith had considerable travel experience.

On this occasion, he remained on a secure compound, drinking only bottled water and eating food prepared and served to him at the onsite canteen. However, despite taking every precaution, just a few days after his arrival, he, as well as two of his colleagues, became extremely unwell with abdominal cramps, sickness and diarrhoea.  

Despite the severity of his symptoms, he received no treatment on site, and so Mr Smith made the decision to return to the UK so that he could get help from his specialist medical team. It was later confirmed that he had been exposed to an infection which had triggered a flare-up of his Crohn’s disease.

Despite the best efforts of the consultants at Poole Hospital, in the weeks that followed, his condition continued to deteriorate, and in May 2019, he underwent a complex procedure which resulted in the removal of his large bowel.

The life-changing surgery means he now needs ongoing care and therapy to manage his condition and has been unable to return to work.

Following his ordeal, Mr Smith, a member of Unite the Union, was referred by the Unite legal service to legal experts at Thompsons Solicitors to investigate whether more could and should have been done to prevent him from harm, alleging that Primetals Technologies Ltd was aware of his pre-existing medical condition and that he should not have been sent to work abroad at that time.

While the company denied liability in the case, Mr Smith’s legal team was able to secure a significant £800k compensation care package, which reflects his loss of earnings and to help fund his specialist ongoing care needs.

Commenting on his condition and his battle for justice, Mr Smith said: “It has been extremely difficult to come to terms with what has happened and the way that I have been treated. I can no longer do the job I loved, and I need constant care and treatment to help me manage my condition. That’s not the life I had planned.

“I worked for Primetals Technologies Ltd for more than 30 years, travelling all over the world and delivering on projects that helped contribute to the business's success. But when I needed their help and support, I was hung out to dry.”

After contracting the illness in India, Mr Smith had to undergo two major abdominal surgeries and various other operations, including a colostomy, and to create a stoma. He is registered disabled and is in constant pain.

“When I was sent to India my company gave no consideration to my needs or my medical condition, or the risks that I faced as a person,” Mr Smith added. “To them, I was just a worker going to do a job.

“I really hope that by speaking out about my ordeal, lessons are learnt and that my employer and other companies that send people abroad do more than just tick the box regarding risk assessments.

“My life has been completely turned upside down, and I hope no one ever has to go through what I have moving forward. I am very grateful to Thompsons and Unite for the support and guidance I have received over the last few years. Thanks to their help, I have at least some financial security.”

Commenting on the case, Neil Richards, a Solicitor specialising in cross-border injuries and illnesses at Thompsons Solicitors, said it highlighted the need for companies to consider the health and safety of employees at all times, even when working abroad.

He said: “With an increasingly dynamic and mobile workforce, this case highlights the need for employers who send staff members overseas to consider the wider health and safety implications.

“It’s simply not enough to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. In this case, Mr Smith’s employer was fully aware of his pre-existing medical condition and how this would impact his situation were he to become ill in a remote part of India.

“The case also demonstrated the importance of employers carefully considering the risks they are exposing their workforce to and then taking reasonable steps to mitigate against them.

“These obligations do not merely exist when the employee is employed and working in England; they have equal effect when an employer sends an employee out to work away from their principal place of work, which in this case was a remote area overseas.”

Unite legal director Stephen Pinder said: “The Unite legal service operates to protect our members and through our panel solicitors to seek to secure the best compensation available. This was a complex case which required careful work to progress the claim. I am delighted with the outcome for our member and his family, and I am also grateful for the work done on our member’s behalf by Thompsons Solicitors.”

Martin Smith