Passive smoking claim makes history

Former worker at old folks' home blames polluted atmosphere for onset of asthma in case that could set legal precedent

A NURSE claiming damages over passive smoking in the first case of its kind told a court yesterday how she was left breathless and wheezing by the atmosphere in which she was forced to work.

Sylvia Sparrow, aged 60, claims she was left with asthma and severe chest problems after three years of working in the Worsley Lodge elderly people's home in Swinton, Greater Manchester.

Mrs Sparrow told the High Court in Manchester she had worked in an area of the home that at least five residents had adopted as a "smokers' corner". She said: "I started experiencing a sore throat. By the time I came off my shift I could hardly speak. Going in on a morning I used to feel sick and I didn't know how I would get through the shift. I used to battle on, but it got so I couldn't go on. The thought of getting through the day was so stressful and I used to experience coughing."

Mrs Sparrow, a State Enrolled Nurse, of Swinton, is claiming an undisclosed amount for injury and loss of earnings from St Andrew's Homes Ltd, which ran Worsley Lodge. The home is now under new ownership.

It is the first time a passive smoking case has come before the courts in England and Wales and the outcome could set a legal precedent.

Mrs Sparrow's action, being funded by the Royal College of Nursing, alleges that the company failed to provide a safe environment for her to work.

Her counsel, Alan Rawley QC, told Mr Justice Holland: "They should have provided a smoking room in which she need not have gone. There are smoking rooms in many institutions and non-smoking compartments on railway trains. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise a system which would keep her away from smoking, particularly once she had given notice of her disabilities."

Mr Rawley said that it was a "moot point" whether passive smoking could cause asthma in an adult.

But doctors had diagnosed Mrs Sparrow as probably predisposed to the disease, which remained symptomless until she was exposed to the irritant of smoke in her work.

Mrs Sparrow worked part time at the home, which had 72 elderly residents, from 1986. Her symptoms started in 1989, when her GP diagnosed her problems as being caused by tobacco fumes.

Mrs Sparrow said she had asked to be moved from the "green lounge" area of the home where residents regularly smoked, but after a period elsewhere was told she had to move back there permanently. In February 1992, she was signed off sick for six months and never returned.

Mrs Sparrow agreed that a doctor had later assessed the long-term effects on her health as minor and a tribunal had fixed the extent of her disability as 5 per cent.

She denied she had suggested the whole of the home should be made smoke- free or that she had exaggerated the extent of her condition. She had not left to look for another job earlier because she liked working at the home, she said.

She said a suggestion that she could have avoided the area where there was smoke was very unfair. "It was my duty to be in that area. I would not leave the patients."

There was constant smoking in the area and two of the residents would have 600 cigarettes each brought in by relatives each month. "Others didn't smoke to that extreme but they did smoke," said Mrs Sparrow. "As soon as they had their breakfast they would light up. They were constantly lighting up. It was their chatting corner and their smoking corner."

The hearing continues today.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen