Havering College of Further Education’s beauty staff poisoned by carbon monoxide awarded £100,000 after ‘vice-like’ headaches

L- R (back row): Joanne Davies, Sarah Ramsay, Kerry Townsend and Sadie Collins and (front row): Made

L- R (back row): Joanne Davies, Sarah Ramsay, Kerry Townsend and Sadie Collins and (front row): Madelene Holdsworth, lawyer and Catherine Cullen outside the Royal Courts of Justice. - Credit: Archant

Members of staff from a Havering College who were poisoned with carbon monoxide from a broken boiler have been awarded more than £100,000 in damages.

A group of hair and beauty staff from Havering College of Further and Higher Education suffered nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hair loss and persistent headaches while working at a campus in Brentwood.

The staff members claimed that they were exposed to carbon monoxide between late 2010 and November 2012 while working at a Sawyers Hall College campus which has since closed.

At the time, the staff frequently consulted their doctors to try and discover the cause of their symptoms.

A member of staff said she suffered “awful, gripping” and “vice-like” headaches that caused her to feel unable to drive home safely at the end of the working day.

It was revealed in December 2012 that a broken boiler flue had been blocked since late 2010.

Judge Richard Roberts concluded that the college failed to take appropriate action in response to persistent complaints made by the staff members and that it failed to notify Essex County Council and the governing body of Sawyers College about their employees’ symptoms following a hearing at the Central London Country Court.

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The college was found liable and sums up to £15,000 each were awarded to the nine claimants, Joanne Davies, Sadie Collins, Sarah Ramsay, Kelly Rodway, Clare Brewer, Jessica Westley, Kerry Townsend, Catherine Cullen and Lesley Chantler, after the case was concluded on Thursday, December 13.

Total damages awarded amounted to £104,424.

Mum-of-two Kelly, 35, worked as a receptionist and beauty therapist at the college and believes she was exposed to the fumes for the first six months of her pregnancy with first child Rosie, now five, before the leak was discovered.

“It was a really frightening time. I’d had constant headaches and sickness for weeks by that point and a really bad chest infection I couldn’t seem to shake, but I’d just put it down to being pregnant,” she said.

“For me the worst part was the stress of not knowing whether it had harmed my baby. Everything seemed fine on the scans but the doctors couldn’t rule it out and that caused huge anxiety right up until she was born. Thankfully she was healthy but it’s still something that plays on my mind even now.”

Catherine, 58, a receptionist and beauty therapist who worked there for nine months during the period of exposure said she felt so ill that she was forced to quit her job.

The beauty therapist said: “I have always been very active but suddenly I was permanently tired and had such bad headaches that I was taking tablets all the time.

“I was in my 50s so I put it down to my age but my husband had noticed the change in me too and he suggested I give it up. I felt I had no other choice.

“I loved my job but I just felt like I didn’t have the energy to carry on.

“It’s been six long years but I’m pleased it’s finally behind us. It was scary standing up in court and being cross-examined but we just kept in our minds that we were the ones in the right and that’s how we got through it – by telling the truth.”

Madelene Holdsworth, head of the industrial diseases team at law firm Slater and Gordon, who represented the women, said: “Symptoms of carbon monoxide inhalation are not always obvious but its effects can be severe and sometimes fatal.

“By law, employers and landlords have a duty of care to ensure appliances are properly and regularly maintained but clearly that did not happen in this case.

“My clients are pleased that the court has finally recognised them for telling the truth and now hope to put this ordeal behind them. They suffered terribly as a result of prolonged exposure and hope this will serve as a warning to others of how dangerous this poisonous gas can be.”

A spokesman from the college said: “We acknowledge the court’s decision, all college provision was withdrawn from the former school in the academic year 2015/2016.”