Victim of passive smoking wins pounds 25,000

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Labour Editor

A local authority manager yesterday won a record pounds 25,000 compensation for the damage to her health caused by passive smoking.

Beryl Roe, 59, who worked for Stockport council, was forced to retire from her job as head of the education, catering and cleaning department in 1987 after suffering bronchial attacks.

The out-of-court settlement was the second by the Greater Manchester council, which in 1993 became the first employer to compensate an employee over the effects of passive smoking. The first victim, Veronica Bland, who worked in the same department as Mrs Roe, received pounds 15,000.

The latest case will almost certainly encourage other litigants as medical evidence mounts on the ill-effects of working in a smoky atmosphere. The amount of compensation granted is also likely to increase and so will the smoking bans introduced by employers.

Mrs Roe's compensation comes after a seven-year battle to prove that her ill-heath was caused by the council's failure to ventilate her offices adequately.

Mrs Roe retired at the age of 51 after suffering eye, nose and throat symptoms and bronchial attacks since 1983. She has been unable to work since then and her symptoms return if she enters a smoky atmosphere.

Mrs Roe expressed delight with the settlement. "My case is not against smokers or smoking, but against the council doing nothing to protect me from inhaling cigarette smoke," she said. "The ventilation system in my offices was shut down by the council and this resulted in me inhaling excessive smoke, which damaged my health."

Sarah Copsey, health and safety officer with Unison, the public service union, which backed the case, said the settlement would warn to employers that failure to protect the health of their workers would cost them money. "This is not about whether people smoke but about creating safe working conditions for people," she said.

A spokesman for the council pointed out that the smoky atmosphere in which Mrs Roe worked existed more than a decade ago. He said: "Stockport council is a caring employer and is constantly seeking ways of protecting the health and welfare of staff." He said the authority had carried out an extensive refurbishment of the office block in question at a cost of more than pounds 500,000.

The work involved altering heating controls, and installing new air filters. "The floor where she formerly worked is now airy and comfortable."

The spokesman said that Stockport had played a leading role among local authorities in pioneering successful no-smoking policies.The council did not admit liability and there had been no judgment against the council, the spokesman pointed out. The claim had been handled entirely by Stockport's insurance company.