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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Compensation for Carlisle school technicians exposed to poisonous fumes

Three school science technicians have been compensated after they were exposed to poisonous bromine fumes that made them ill for weeks.

The women, employed at Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle, say the school ignored complaints that a fume cabinet, poisons cupboard and preparation area were inadequately ventilated.

Senior science technician April Walsh, 34, who has since been made redundant, agreed to speak out after the school admitted liability and agreed to pay her £3,500 in an out-of-court settlement.

It is understood the other technicians, who still work there, received similar amounts.

Firefighters responding to the incident in September last year had to smash windows to let the fumes escape.

Mrs Walsh, who was the science department’s health and safety officer, said staff had repeatedly raised concerns about lack of ventilation when the new school buildings in Lismore Place opened earlier in the year.

The technicians were exposed to toxic fumes when they opened a box that contained a bromine bottle.

The bottle had corroded, allowing the vapours to spill out.

The only protection the women had were face masks and gloves.

Mrs Walsh, of Skiddaw Close, Silloth, said: “The bromine saturated the fume cabinet setting an alarm off. Initially, I could feel a tingling in the mouth, my eyes began to water and we all started coughing.

“It felt as if we were drunk. It was quite weird. We all went home and had to have chest X-rays and we all suffered flu-like symptoms and coughing for weeks.”

Bromine poisoning can lead to long-term health complaints and in serious cases brain damage.

Mrs Walsh was anxious about the consequences but has now been given the all clear.

She said: “Even after this the school didn’t do anything [to improve ventilation].

“That was the reason we went to our union, Unison, to force the academy to do something.”

Unison instructed its lawyers, Thompsons Solicitors, to make a claim for compensation.

The legal team argued that the chemical should have been kept in a room with ducted ventilation and that the school should have made steps to rectify the problem as soon as it was highlighted.

Acting headteacher Jacky Kennedy issued a statement on behalf of the academy.

This says the school has “responded to all recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive” and that “procedure, facility and staffing changes have been implemented as a result”.

But the school has not said what those recommendations and changes were.

Mrs Walsh worked for the academy and its predecessor school, St Aidan’s, for five years. She was made redundant this April.

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