Factory pays £15,000 over worker's death

The mother of a 17-year-old factory worker who took a fatal overdose of tablets after being exposed to toxic fumes, yesterday won the £15,000 compensation she had claimed from her son's employer.

Simon Freeman's mother, June, had argued that repeated exposure to high levels of trichloroethylene solvent had disturbed the balance of his mind. He took an overdose of quinine tablets - which Mrs Freeman took for cramp - soon after coming home from work and died in hospital that night.

Yesterday her lawyer, Alan Care, said Mr Freeman's employer, Wolverhampton-based Genoa Engineering, which trades as Barnet International, had settled the claim by paying the full £15,000 demanded.

Mrs Freeman, from Wolverhampton, said: "This proves that my son's working conditions put him where he is now. No young person should be allowed to work with such dangerous chemicals under the age of 18.''

Mr Freeman, the youngest of five brothers and sisters, died three years ago, less than six months after leaving school and starting work. He had begun as a glass fibre laminator but had been switched to dipping archery bows in a degreasing tank containing the solvent and then wiping them clean.

He wore no mask or protective clothing, and was given no warning of the chemical's toxicity. In the weeks before his death he had become moody, irritable and tired - all of which fitted with exposure to high levels of trichloroethylene. Fifteen months ago the firm was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Commission for three breaches of safety at work laws in relation to trichloroethylene fumes and inadequate ventilation. It pleaded guilty and was fined £9,000 by magistrates. Genoa Engineering's managingdirector Anthony Collins would not comment on Mrs Freeman's settlement last night. Another son, Barry, still works at the factory.

Mrs Freeman has been campaigning for higher health and safety standards for young workers. She has raised an 11,000 signature protest petition and has lobbied MPs and MEPs.

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