Aalborg, Denmark -- Siemens is in court in Denmark defending claims by former employees that their health suffered from manufacturing processes which exposed them to diisocyanates.
Siemens, headquartered in Berlin and Munich, Germany, failed to obtain a special licence to use a spray PU foam insulation for seven years, the workers allege.
The spray foam was used in a process for wind turbine blade production, the lawyer for three ex-employees suing for occupational injury said.
Lawyer Christian Riewe of law firm Bjorst, who is representing the men, said the use of the foam, as well as the method and timing of use at Siemens, put the claimants at risk of diisocyanate exposure.
Speaking to UTECH-polyurethane.com at the close of the first day of a three-day hearing due to end tomorrow (Thursday, 2 June, 2016) Riewe said: “According to Danish legislation, it is illegal to spray this chemical unless it is done within a sealed environment.”
The case focuses on PU foam spraying that took place at two facilities in Aalborg in the North West of Denmark between 2004 and 2011, said Riewe.
Riewe said Siemens should have obtained special permission to carry out the procedure before starting. Permission, he added, “the firm did not have until 2011.”
He added that not only were his clients exposed to unreacted diisocyanates in the premises’ air, they also risked secondary exposure due to fires that “occasionally” ignited when they welded close to the cured foam. “Once the foam is cured, if there is a rise in temperature above 130° C the emission of isocyanates starts again,” said Reiwe.
He added: “A central part of the evidence is how staff were handling this PU foam and the isocyanates in it. The external company applying the foam, as far as we know, handled it correctly and had the necessary protective masks and suits.
“My clients had to work in the premises after that company had finished spraying the foam. My clients also claim that sometimes when they arrived the external company had only just finished spraying or were still spraying but my clients were to start work immediately.”
Riewe said that Siemens' response was "that there were always some hours when all the windows and doors were left open in order to get fresh air into the premises."
He added: “At some point Siemens started to measure the isocyanates in the air of the premises, and how long they stay in the air after the foaming process. These reports suggest that as far as isocyanates were concerned it was safe to enter the premises 15 to 30 minutes after the foam was sprayed.”
“Siemens’ first report from 2010 said that up to two hours after spraying there could be some problem with the concentration of dust in the premises but they also claim the dust was not dangerous, but just normal dust,” added Riewe.
In February and April 2011, Siemens reports suggest that four hours was required before the dust concentration would be low enough for employees to enter safely.
In 2010 and 2011, inspections were carried out by Siemens again. Those reports said that “if they waited an additional four hours after spraying then it would be safe to enter without carrying a mask with fresh air supply” such as an oxygen tank, Riewe claimed.
In 2011, Siemens applied to the Danish Working Environment Authority (WEA) for a special licence to spray PU foam in a non-sealed environment. Following WEA's examination of Siemens facilities, the licence to spray was granted under special circumstances.
First Siemens had to install ventilation and a system providing a “renewal of air into the environment. That report said it would not be enough just to open the doors and windows,” Riewe said.
The WEA direction also states that five hours after the PU foam spraying process has ended, and with mechanical ventilation in place, “there is a risk that there is unreacted isocyanates particles present in the environment.”
Riewe said the Danish Worker Related Insurance Board has already made a judgment on whether the workers injuries were work related. Some workers have already received payouts. “The court where we are having this hearing is not bound by the decision of the Worker Related Insurance Board,” he added.
The case is being heard in an Aalborg civil court with Judge Jytte Torslov. The total claim for damages being considered is around EUR 150,000 and relates to loss of earnings during periods claimants say they were unable to work due to eczema and asthma caused by working conditions at Siemens.
We contacted several Siemens representatives for comment on this article. None were offered.