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Wednesday, 6 May, 1998, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Passive smoking 'made nurse sick'
The test case could open the floodgates to similar claims
A nurse was forced to give up work when she developed asthma from passive smoking through her duties in a private nursing home, a court has heard.

Non-smoking Sylvia Sparrow, 60, has launched a landmark legal battle for damages against her former bosses.

She told a judge on Wednesday how she worked shifts in a lounge nicknamed "smokers' corner", used by elderly heavy smokers.

Sylvia Sparrow: "smokers' corner" made her ill
She told the High Court in Manchester: "It would make you feel sick. If you tried to open the windows there were restraining bars on them. There was no air at all.

"I started with a sore throat and by the time I came off the shift I was so hoarse I could not speak. Just the thought of going into the room was stressful."

Mrs Sparrow is claiming damages against her former employers, St Andrews Homes Ltd, who used to run the Worsley Lodge Nursing Home near her home in Swinton, Lancashire.

It is the first claim in which damages for complaints suffered by passive smoking have been sought in a British court.

Symptoms worsened

Mrs Sparrow's case is being funded by the Royal College of Nursing, and it is alleged her former boss failed to provide a safe work place.

Her counsel, Alan Rawley QC, said Mrs Sparrow started working shifts at the 72-patient home in 1986. There was a smokeless staff room, a non-smokers' room for residents, and three lounges known as the green, blue and pink areas.

"Many of her duties took her into the green area. It was a large lounge where residents congregated and it was well known that part of that lounge was nicknamed smokers' corner," he told Mr Justice Holland.

Similar claims

As her symptoms worsened she saw her GP who wrote to the home in February 1990, advising them Mrs Sparrow needed to work in a "smoke-free or self-ventilated environment".

She also complained to the matron and was moved to a less smoky area. But eventually she had to return to work in the green area. She suffered bouts of illness and had to take time off work.

After becoming ill again at a St Valentine's Day party in 1992 Mrs Sparrow was given a sick note for six months but never returned to work again, said Mr Rawley.

The outcome of the hearing could lead to thousands of other similar claims and have widespread implications for employment legislation.

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