Unite member, Shelley Hardwick, has received £17,500 in compensation after developing dermatitis from being exposed to irritants on the buses she drove.
In October 2012, Shelley, who works as a bus driver for First South Yorkshire Ltd, noticed that she had developed sore blisters and spots on her hands which were diagnosed as dermatitis by her doctor. Despite being prescribed steroid cream and antibiotics, her symptoms continued.
Shelley reported her symptoms to her employer and was seen by the occupational health doctor and referred to a Dermatologist. They confirmed that her dermatitis was likely caused by exposure to disintegrating steering wheels on the older buses that she has been driving and she should only drive the newer buses and wear gloves to protect her hands. Patch tests confirmed that she was allergic to formaldehyde, which is present in many day-to-day products such as plastics and rubber. When Shelley was not at work, the condition would improve.
Over the years, drivers had regularly reported the poor state of repair of the steering wheels and handbrakes on the older buses to management. However, rather than replacing them, they were repaired by wrapping electrical tape around the areas where the coating had worn off. On occasions, body filler had also been used to patch up areas where the rubber was disintegrating.
Drivers also reported that the steering wheels and handbrakes on the buses were dirty as a result of fitters and cleaning staff failing to remove their gloves before moving the buses around the depot. Therefore, oil, diesel and dirt were transferred onto the buses. Despite driver’s complaints, no action was taken.
Shelley approached Unite Legal Services and they made a claim for compensation. Whilst conducting their investigation, many other bus drivers at the depot were found to have the same skin condition as Shelley. They provided witness statements confirming their symptoms along with confirming that the older buses were in a bad state of repair.
Her employers admitted a breach of duty, but continued to dispute that Shelley had developed her condition as a result of exposure to irritants on the dirty and damaged steering wheels.
Shelley received £17,500 compensation and did not have to pay anything towards legal costs. Unite members receive 100% of any compensation awarded to them.
Shelley said: “I am so glad that I got in touch with Unite Legal Services. We had to start court proceedings because to begin with my employer was not prepared to accept responsibility. They were trying to argue that it was not the damaged steering wheels that had caused my skin condition.
Unfortunately I will now have to live with this condition for the rest of my life, but Unite Legal Services fought for me every step of the way and got me the compensation I deserved.”
Karen Reay, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional secretary at Unite the Union, said: “Employers are under a duty to ensure their employees are kept safe whilst working, unfortunately sometimes this does not happen and despite complaints, employee’s concerns can be ignored. Shelley was able to get expert legal advice, medical treatment and compensation with the support of Unite Legal Services.”