A FIREFIGHTER from Wimborne has received compensation from company QinetiQ after his asthma worsened and he suffered a back injury.

Peter Eaton’s pre-existing lung condition became worse after being exposed to diesel fumes at Boscombe Down military airfield’s fire station, where the 52-year-old’s began working in 1997.

Trucks would frequently drive in and out an unventilated vehicle garage and fill the area with diesel fumes.

Mr Eaton also says he developed a “painful” back injury after repeatedly carrying and lifting heavy carbon dioxide cylinders and fire extinguishers – sometimes weighing up to 50kg – without any lifting equipment.

He turned to Unite for help, despite having not been a union member for a number of years.

“We really started to notice the issue around 2010,” he said.

“We tried to tell our employer by voicing our concerns about having to work in a toxic soup day in, day out, but our comments were held against us and we were warned that we would face sanctions if we continued to complain.”

Mr Eaton was compensated after working with Unite Legal Services and Thompsons Solicitors. An inspection of the depot as part of the case brought by Mr Eaton found that QinetiQ had installed ‘local exhaust ventilation’, which took fumes from vehicle exhausts out of the depot via a large pipe.

However, lawyers argued the depot – which was only built in 2000 – should have had this ventilation in the first place, as the dangers of exhaust fumes were by then already well known.

It turned out that the company had only installed the extraction system because of an order from the Health and Safety Executive.

“I feel the way we were treated by QinetiQ was draconian with management-led employee forums in place of proper union representation,” said Mr Eaton.

“In the end, I had to leave as my condition made work impossible and I didn’t think I would be able to afford to fight my former employer in court.”

Stuart Davies, Unite’s regional legal officer, said: “We will always fight tooth and nail to improve working conditions across the UK.”