Yorkshire grandmother left in agony because of chemical exposure at Speedibake in Wakefield wins damages

A Yorkshire grandmother, who developed a severe skin condition as a result of her work at Speedibake in Wakefield, has won £50,000 in damages.

Saturday, 31st July 2021, 10:58 am
Pictured, the entrance to Speedibake in Wakefield. A Yorkshire grandmother, who developed a severe skin condition as a result of her work at the company, has secured £50,000 in damages. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Susan Robinson, 59, from Wakefield worked at Speedibake – a factory in West Yorkshire that supplies muffins, cupcakes and other baked goods to a number of big supermarket chains.

She worked on a line that produced hundreds of thousands of frozen mince-pies for Christmas.

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In February last year, an unexpected turn of events saw the Speedibake factory in Wakefield close down due to a fire. Photo credit: Scott Merrylees/JPIMedia

Within six months of starting the job, Mrs Robinson noticed that her hands were becoming red and itchy. The symptoms developed into a cycle which got worse over time and ended up with her skin blistering and bleeding.

A test by Pontefract Hospital confirmed that she had contracted dermatitis - a type of eczema caused by chemical exposure to the skin.

As a result of having to wash her hands 17 times a day at work, the skin’s natural protective barrier had broken down.

Mrs Robinson persistently asked for hand protection that was fit-for-purpose and offered multiple suggestions herself, for example, barrier creams and thinner gloves, but her employers failed to deal with the matter properly or in any consistent way due to fears of contamination.

Mrs Robinson said: "My hands were incredibly painful and sore. I had a particularly bad flareup and that’s when I knew I had to take it further."

In desperation, Mrs Robinson turned to her union, the BFAWU, and Thompsons Solicitors for support. They helped her to secure £50,000 compensation.

She added: “My solicitor was so supportive. If the process ever got me down, she was the person I knew I could talk to. She kept me going.”

In February last year, an unexpected turn of events saw the Speedibake factory in Wakefield close down due to a fire.

Most staff were transferred to Speedibake’s Bradford factory, but Mrs Robinson was made redundant.

She had hoped she would get a position at the Bradford branch, but her application was not successful due to the state of her hands and her claim against the company.

Sarah Woolley, from the BFAWU, said: “Sadly, cases like Susan’s are not uncommon and profit overrode a worker’s health.

“Speedibake should be ashamed of itself for failing to deal with a terrible situation for Susan that had been repeatedly confirmed was caused by her work.

“We were proud to support the claim and ensured she got the maximum compensation owed to her and held Speedibake to account for its significant failings.”

Clare Timmins, from Thompsons, acted on behalf of Mrs Robinson and added: “Of course, it’s imperative that high hygiene standards are maintained, but it should never be at the cost of an employee’s health.

"Speedibake could have, and should have, responded to this by taking Susan off the line as soon as she began to report symptoms and given her other duties until they could support her safe return to the line.

"However, because she was a good worker, they kept her working even though they knew it could be harming her. This is yet another example of how employers who cut corners can really endanger the health and well-being of their employees.

"Mrs Robinson never wanted to go through the pain and suffering and the fact that she was made redundant, specifically because she was pursuing the claim from an injury they caused, is shocking."

A spokesperson from Speedibake, said: "As food producers we have strict hygiene standards that we have to maintain, which presented challenges in this particular case due to the essential hand cleansing and sanitising products that our employees need to use.

"Following the devastating fire that destroyed our Wakefield Bakery in February 2020, we were faced with the difficult decision of how to allocate a very limited number of roles in our Bradford Bakery. While we regret the outcome of this situation, given the circumstances, we believe we acted responsibly and in good faith at all times."