Cooplands health and safety breach: "You don’t expect that you are going to get an illness"

Cooplands at Eastfield
Cooplands at Eastfield

Workers who were diagnosed with occupational asthma because of health and safety failings at a Scarborough bakery said the effects have changed their lives.

Cooplands has been fined £159,080 and ordered to pay £4,594 in costs after magistrates heard that employees at the Eastfield factory were consistently exposed to risks to their health over a period of 14 years.

One of those who was diagnosed with asthma, Jennifer Robertshaw from Scarborough, said: “It’s a bakery, there is bound to be flour, but you don’t expect that you are going to get an illness.

“I was put on a different job which exposed me to more flour than normal. I noticed after a while I had bad breathing symptoms. I’m from the old school where you just carry on.

“But in the end I went to my doctor and he examined me and did tests and asked what job I did. He said ‘you’ll probably find it’s the flour (causing it).

“I feel that I have been totally let down. Initially, I was put on sick leave by my doctor, but in the whole time I was off, nearly three months, I wasn’t contacted once by the company. I had worked there for 22 years and it felt like a slap in the face from a company I had given 22 years of service to. I felt quite disappointed.”

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no effective method of control to prevent the dust becoming airborne and employees being exposed to breathing in the dust.

Jennifer, 64, said: “It has changed my life. This isn’t going to go away. I didn’t know if it was going to get worse and leave me with a worse quality of retirement.

“I struggle badly with my breathing. If I go into town, I know about it when I get home because the car fumes make it worse.”

Another former employee, who was diagnosed with asthma after working at the factory for 12 years, said he didn’t feel it was taken seriously when he informed them.

Stuart Connerton said he had not shown any symptoms in his younger years but said it now affects his day-to-day life.

“In cold weather, doing any walking gets me out of breath very quickly. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” said the 63-year-old.

He said he raised the issue with a union official who asked if he could be given a role away from exposure to flour but was told there wasn’t another job available.

He has been unemployed since leaving Cooplands and has since moved back to the Middlesbrough area to look after his elderly mother. “I hope they have improved the extraction system,” he said.

Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard that standards fell below the expected levels between April 2002 and April 2016 at the factory at Pindar Business Park, Eastfield.

Coopland & Son (Scarborough) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.