Published: 14:00, 22 July 2014
Kent border staff who claim to have have suffered horrific skin rashes after being kitted out with a new uniform are suing the government.
Bosses decided to update the work clothes of staff who were feeling demoralised after swingeing budget cuts.
So they splashed out more than £3million on new suits to kit out 8,000 border staff working at ports, including those in Kent.
But instead of cheering up staff, many have been left complaining of debilitating skin complaints.
Experts believe this has been caused by a resin holding the dye together in the new suits.
Now some of them – including those based at the Port of Dover – are suing the Home Office after claiming they were forced to continue to wear the outfits at work after getting a severe rash.
"Not only have they been given rashes, but in some cases they have been forced to carry on wearing them..." - Lucy Moreton, ISU union
Lucy Moreton of ISU – the union representing 5,000 border staff – said nearly 3% of staff had reacted to the new uniforms.
She said: "This is a disgrace. Not only have they been given rashes, but in some cases they have been forced to carry on wearing them.
"Many have suffered low-grade chemical-type burn. We have some members who now have to wear silk 'burn garments' beneath their uniforms to keep the material off their skin.
"No other clothing supplier would provide items which had to be washed before they were safe to be worn; and in many cases even this has not proved sufficient.
"If a mainstream clothing supplier or a big supermarket stocked clothing which caused skin reactions in 3% of wearers the entire batch would be withdrawn.
"Workers are entitled to bring a claim if their employer has failed them like this without any prejudice in their future career. This has been a fiasco from start to finish."
Staff were first issued the uniforms in March this year after they were ordered in by new Border Force boss Sir Charles Montgomery.
But when the blue navy uniforms from Bangladesh arrived, they smelt of chemicals.
Dozens of staff then contacted the union complaining of severe skin reactions – some akin to chemical burns that appeared soon after wearing the uniforms.
One guard was unable to wear any clothes for days after being forced to wear the suit repeatedly for work by management and not being allowed to wear an alternative.
They then had to take time off work and were left with blotchy red patch sores all over their skin and are now on a high dose steroid cream to control the ongoing infection.
Another guard was left with blotchy chemical-style burns across their front and back a week after wearing the uniform – despite washing the uniform repeatedly as requested.
Both have been diagnosed with occupational dermatitis and told they will have future rash outbreaks.
Experts have now identified the likely source as a dye fixative. It is thought a "rushed" delivery meant there was insufficient time to air or wash the clothes before shipping.
Emma Costin of Simpson Millar solicitors – which is handling claims from border staff on behalf of ISU – said: "These staff have suffered terribly through no fault of their own.
"They have been left with horrific burns just for doing their job. When management realised there was a problem they should have acted more quickly and not continued to make staff wash and wear their uniforms."
A Home Office spokesman said staff should raise problems with their manager, adding: "The material used for our uniforms has been subject to rigorous independent testing, but we are aware a small number of staff have reported some irritation."
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