In 1875, Britain produced almost 40 per cent of the world’s steel. Today it extracts 12 million tonnes a year which account for just 0.7 per cent. The decline of the UK steel industry has hit many communities, especially in the industrial heartlands of the North, hard.
Global overcapacity, a strong pound (up until the EU Referendum decision) and cheap Chinese imports are causes of the present crisis, but many of UK steel’s woes are self-inflicted. It has a history of poor management, lack of capital and ill-judged state intervention.
The industry is now facing another crisis. Many of the men who spent their careers working in the steel industry are now facing serious health problems.
In October 2016, a Coroner’s Court ruled that a former employee of British Steel, who had been exposed to asbestos (asbestos was used commonly as an insulating material to insulate steel mills) between 1976 and 1977 and 1981 and 1982, died from industrial disease.
Tragically, his case is just one of many coming to light as former workers enter old age.
The dangers of working in the steel industry
The steel industry is regarded as one of the highest risk environments for workers and causes numerous health issues. It also has a high rate of workplace accidents. In 2014 alone there were over 500 handling injuries reported to the HSE.
Common diseases linked to former steel workers include; respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and skin cancer.
The production of coke takes place in large batteries of ovens in which coal is heated to high temperatures for several hours. Coal is charged into the oven through a series of holes in the oven top, and the product, coke, is pushed sideways out of the oven through doors at each end. During this process, coke oven workers may be exposed to various emissions which are complex mixtures of chemicals and gases and which may include known or suspected carcinogens.
In the UK, coke is used mostly in blast furnaces at integrated iron and steel works. Studies have shown that in some cases, workers operating coke ovens had almost double the risk of developing lung cancer.
One widow, whose husband died from industrial disease caused by working with coke ovens told Teesside News that, “[He] had described his working conditions as horrendous and said the fumes were terrible and overwhelming, but they were only really given suitable masks around the late 1990s and he’d already spent 20 years breathing in the toxic fumes.”
Victims of industrial disease and/or their families can claim compensation if they can show that their former employers failed to protect them from the known consequences of inhaling the harsh chemicals that are found in steel works. The award can help fund treatment or support the family if the victim is deceased.
Employers have a legal obligation to keep workers safe from harm. If they fail and the results are such that an employee is stricken by a deadly disease, it is fair and reasonable that compensation be claimed and awarded.
At IBB, our industrial diseases team, led by Alan Jolliffe, have the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for mining-related or any industrial disease. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.
 Handling injuries in Great Britain, 2014 http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/handling-injuries.pdf