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Home Medway News Article
A pensioner has been awarded £70,000 damages after wood dust led to him suffering nasal cancer.
Peter Spillett, 66, of Eden Avenue, Chatham, worked as a timberman for 25 years.
He repaired wooden jetties, piers and wharfs - which meant he was inhaling dust every day.
Following a four-year legal battle, he has now been awarded compensation from his former employer after his solicitor proved he had been negligently exposed to the material, which triggered his cancer.
Mr Spillett was diagnosed with the disease after being persuaded to visit his GP by his family when they noticed he was having problems hearing.
The visit saved his life because the resulting minor operation to correct his hearing revealed he had nasal cancer.
Mr Spillett said: "If it hadn't have been for my wife Margaret and two daughters, Wendy and Vanessa, I wouldn't be here.
"To be honest they nagged me to go and see the doctor because they were sick of me not hearing what they said and turning the sound up on the TV all the time.
"When the cancer was discovered, my specialist said that if it had gone on untreated, it would have killed me within 12 months."
Mr Spillett worked for Mowlem Marine, now Carillion, from 1984 to 2009, repairing wooden structures along the River Medway and the Thames Estuary.
He said: "The timbers could be anything up to 80 years old and although some were below the water line, there could be 40ft of wood above it.
"When the cancer was discovered, my specialist said that if it had gone on untreated, it would have killed me within twelve months” - Peter Spillett
"We worked off a barge and cut damaged timbers out by chainsaw and if it was reusable, we cut it up on the boat into manageable sizes.
"There was a lot of sawing, planing, cutting and drilling of very old, very well seasoned wood which created very fine dust that I inhaled. I remember the splinters hitting me in the face."
The judge in Mr Spillett's case accepted if it had not been for the exposure to wood dust, he would never have developed cancer.
Mr Spillett, who worked at Chatham Dockyard before its closure in 1984, will be using his £70,000 payout to enjoy retirement with his wife and the couple are planning a holiday in China next year with friends.
He said: "It has always been an ambition of mine to go to China and see the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors and this money means I now have the opportunity to go."
Mr Spillett completed a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy five years ago and he is clear of the disease, but there is a chance it could come back.
He now wants to warn others about the dangers of working with wood and offer hope to anyone who might have been diagnosed with nasal cancer.
He said: "I was told at first that I didn't stand a chance of getting compensation, but if I can then other people can.
"I'm hoping my case will open up the opportunity for others."
His solicitor Pauline Chandler, an expert in industrial disease cases at the law firm Pannone, said: "Nasal cancers are very rare and they receive little media attention, so people who develop them do not realise that exposure to wood dust in the past may be the cause.
"People with this condition are, therefore, dependent on their doctors asking about their work history and advising them that there might be a connection with the work they did."
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