Worker’s £1m claim for compensation

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A WORKMAN from South Yorkshire “plagued” by breathing problems since a “strong and unpleasant smell” pervaded an Esso oil refinery is facing an anxious wait for the outcome of his £1 million compensation claim.

Graham Wood, aged 42, claims it is unlikely there is no link between the mysterious smell and the respiratory difficulties he has experienced since working as a steel erector at the oil giant’s Fawley Refinery, near Southampton, in June 2005.

His barrister Jonathan Clarke told a court in London the difficulty he faces is “there is no evidence as to what the substance was that caused that strong and unpleasant smell”. However, he urged the judge to find that, whatever it was, it was “harmful”.

Mr Wood, of Applehaigh, Kirk Sandall, Doncaster, was “fit and healthy” before he worked at the refinery, but Mr Clarke told the court: “Ever since a few hours after this happened, he has been plagued by respiratory symptoms and, to this day, remains on the strongest inhalers available.”

There was, added the barrister, “an undeniable smell different from the normal smells” at the refinery and other people present were concerned enough to sound the alarm.

While accepting Mr Wood’s problems might be “a pure coincidence”, Mr Clarke said the “least improbable” explanation was they were triggered by exposure to a “noxious” substance at the refinery.

Mr Wood was working for an outside contractor when the court heard a nasty smell led to the alarm being raised and staff being evacuated.

Within an hour Mr Wood started suffering breathlessness, and has gone on to develop asthma, Reactive Airway Dysfunctional Syndrome and psychological consequences including anxiety and depression, the court heard.

Mr Clarke said Mr Wood’s life has been devastated, and his ability to earn is reduced.

Mr Wood is suing Esso Petroleum Co Ltd for more than £1m damages - mainly for lost earnings and “pain and suffering” - but the company denies liability and is vigorously defending the case.

Mr Clarke said although it had proved impossible to identify the gas involved, processes at the refinery produced hydrogen sulphide, hydrocarbons and mercaptans.

However, Rohan Pershad, for Esso, has described the allegations as “generic and unspecified” and urged the judge to find that stringent safety measures were in place and there was “no defect or danger for visitors to the premises”.

Mr Wood’s lawyers say reactions to noxious gas exposure vary widely between individuals - and he may have been particularly vulnerable.

But Mr Pershad told the court: “There were approximately 30 other people present at or around the area where he alleges he was exposed to gas. None suffered any injuries or adverse reactions.”

After a four-day hearing, the judge Mr Justice Macduff has now reserved his decision on the case and will give his ruling at an unspecified later date.