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Wood dust related nasal cancer affects 50 per year

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The risks faced by those employed in the woodworking and furniture industries are to be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It is thought that around 50 people are diagnosed with nasal cancer every year, which is likely to have been caused by their exposure to wood dust. Asthma is also an issue within this industry.

In 2005, a cabinet maker died of nasal cancer, and his widow has recently won a compensation battle resulting in an award of £375,000.

Ken Mitchell was 56 when he died of the disease. He had been exposed to wood dust during his employment at cabinet makers E Lock & Son during the 1960s and 70s. His symptoms showed themselves for the first time some years later in 2000 when he began to experience dizzy spells. An MRI scan revealed a large tumour, which was inoperable. Sadly, the treatment he underwent had an adverse effect and caused an abscess which left a hole between his eye and nose which never healed. By 2002 the cancer had spread into his spine and he was confined to his home for eight months until he died.

Whilst he was still alive, Mr Mitchell looked into pursuing a claim against his former employer, but the company had ceased trading and attempts to trace its insurers were unsuccessful. However, after his death, Mr Mitchell’s widow engaged another firm of solicitors which was successful in tracing the insurers.

Nasal cancer is considered a rare condition with less than 1 in 100,000 developing it. However, for those in the woodworking industry, the risk of developing a tumour in the upper nose is 70 to 80 times higher. As with the asbestos related disease mesothelioma, the symptoms, which can include a runny or blocked nose, don’t tend to show themselves until many years after the exposure and again, as is similar with asbestos related disease claims, it can be difficult to trace the former employer or its insurers due to the elapsed time span.

The HSE found during sample checks around ten years ago that more than a quarter of sites subjected workers to higher than permitted levels of wood dust. Dust extractors and specialist vacuum cleaners should be used and face masks provided to workers.

The HSE said: "The relationship between wood dust and nasal cancer is well-known. Funding has been secured for HSE to commission a piece of research, alongside intelligence gathering activities undertaken by HSE, to update our understanding of exposure risks in the woodworking industry. Such risks can lead to nasal cancer or occupational asthma."

Anyone with a background in the furniture making or woodworking industries who suffers symptoms of nasal cancer, or any form of respiratory disease, should consult a doctor without delay. If diagnosed, taking immediate legal advice is an important next step. A specialist occupational disease claims lawyer with proven expertise in this sector will have a very good chance of tracing the insurers of companies which have long since closed down, so victims should not be put off pursuing a claim.

Stephensons have a team of legal experts who have in depth and highly specialist expertise in handling occupational disease claims and a proven track record in reinstating companies so as to pursue them for compensation. For confidential advice, and to speak directly with one of our personal injury experts, call us on 01616 966 229.

By personal injury solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Kate Sweeney