Allergic To Work

by | Apr 23, 2014 | 31 comments

When you wake up in the fire wood pile with a nose bleed you know that something is going to have to give. I’d been having migraines for a little while which was odd as headaches are not something I’ve ever suffered with, and I’m rubbish at putting up with it. I’m not one to moan about feeling ill though and I’m very well looked after (Helen feeds me like a king!), my job keeps me active and when I think about it I can’t actually remember when I was last unwell, or Helen either.Firewood

It’s typical then, that our neighbour at the workshop has been gassing me out. It’s odd how things can creep up on you and catch you unaware. We’d started to keep a diary of the migraines to put some sense to them, but then within the space of a week I started to completely fall apart – rashes, nausea, dizziness.
It came to a head suddenly and on realising what the cause was, Helen banned me from work.

Our workshop neighbour is a fibre glasser. We’ve noticed his fumes in the past when passing by his door but felt sufficiently away to not be in danger when working. Maybe he’s changed the way he works, or perhaps my body has just had enough of a faint but daily dosing of chemicals? Either way, after Helen’s extensive digging we were certain of the cause and that these chemicals were not to be messed around with – there’s some horror stories when you get looking.

I’ve stayed away from the workshop for over a week now and feel perfectly well, to be honest I haven’t felt this well in a long time. Though I’m free from chemicals, I’m acutely aware of time creeping up on us. We’ve kept busy, since there’s so much to be done at the barns, but keeping to deadlines on workbenches for our customers is far more important.
Much digging, thinking and brainstorming later, it seems that there are many loop holes when in comes to health safety in the workplace. I probably couldn’t employ someone with that air pollution, but there seems to be nothing to protect me when it comes in from a neighbour. Though I’m sure we could get something sorted out, chances are it would take months at best, and it’s got to the point when as soon as I get a whiff of that place I’m as good as out cold. I popped the other night to pick a bag of fire wood up, and let’s start back at the beginning of the post. After a lot of thought we decided that we needed to make a positive move out of this situation rather than spending energy declaring war on the estate.

We’ve found in life, that if we allow things to get comfy for too long then something disruptive is probably about to happen. We’ve had half a year of feeling very settled with our business, and now it seems like life is telling us it’s time to move forward. This situation is causing us some massive stress and the only way we can face it without falling in a heap, is to let it push us in a positive direction.
We have a huge amount of work on at the moment which is certainly the biggest concern – along with being busier than ever with the workbenches and many vice orders, we also have ‘Project X’ in the pipe line – all I can say on this one is that it is not a simple job. Then there’s the videos which we’re also busy creating at the minute.
We’d love to take somebody on as an apprentice but it hasn’t really felt like the right thing to do just yet, and the situation that we’re in at the moment really highlights why we’ve been wise to hold off on that.

We’ve come up with what should be a very nice solution to this unfortunate situation. There’s going to be some hard graft to get us there, but this is one of those realities of being self employed. It’s the realisation that we’re not indestructible and that something small can tip the whole balance, in fact people can cause you grief and it’s simply your own problem to solve. We’ve done this for long enough to know that there’s no time to feel down about it, and if we plan things right we have a chance to push ourselves in to a more beneficial outcome.

All I ask is that you don’t worry… we’re pros and everything is in hand. Plus, Helen’s just bought me a tractor! (it’s like a Shetland pony… or hamster). We’ll brief you on the plan as soon as it’s confirmed.little tractor

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Graham Haydon

    Looks like you have a fleet of borrower vehicles what with the Bedford Rascal lurking. Glad your health has improved.

    • Richard

      Ha ha, I used to deliver all my benches on the back of the Bedford. 900cc, 40 hp… It’s a beast.

  2. Arthur van der Harg

    Just to make sure: this is at your current workshop, right? It’s not your neighbour at the new Workbench Temple Barns I hope?

    • Richard

      Hi Arthur, yes, it’s at the current workshop. The temple is safe. The nearest neighbour could have a nuclear reactor in their garage and the temple would be safe.

  3. J Harper

    Sorry to hear about that, It sounds terrible! Pleased your feeling better now.
    It”s rotten when your life gets turned upside down through no fault of your own, am sure with more graft and the help of that brilliant tractor all will be dandy. Good look with what you have planned.

    • Helen

      Many thanks… The only problem is I can’t get him off that brilliant tractor! 🙂

  4. tailwagger

    Ugh! Painful to read, but I’m glad I did. I’m feeling for you and your wife. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m taking the liberty of praying for you, first for your health, and then for your livelihood and lifestyle.

    I have a great respect for the hazards of chemicals. My wife is an organic chemistry professor and before I use anything it goes through her. When a chemist is weary of a chemical, I’m weary of a chemical. Here in the states there are products on the shelves of Walmart that even small lung or skin exposures can kill you (e.g., Hydrofluoric Acid, found in most aluminum wheel cleaners, carries Health Hazard Classification 4 which is as dangerous as it gets). Curiously, labels don’t always tell you this so it’s buyers beware.

    You are probably right about the buildup of a certain chemical or chemicals in your body that it can no longer tolerate even slight exposures. It’s best to do what you must to steer well clear. Your attitude is encouraging, but this must be terribly difficult.

    Kurtis Johnson
    Lincoln, Nebraska USA

    • Richard

      Thank you Kurtis, your thoughts are greatly appreciated. We are looking at this as a positive strangely enough, I like to see it as a kick up the backside to move forward. We have to put health as number one and make some changes that will improve things for the future.

  5. mike murray

    It’s hard to guess what all chemicals he is using in his shop. I don’t know if the resins would be the problem as much as say maybe Acetone or some solvents if he is using it. Some products like Acetone can have some severe health effects associated if there is extended or long-term exposure. I think the effects can be cumulative on your liver in some instances. Some chemicals can be like drinking a lot of alcohol, after a while you only need a little and you get a weird reaction happening. The resins give me a headache and make me nauseous though.
    If I had to work in close proximity to his shop, I would go over and ask him if you could find out what products he is using. He should have Material Data Sheets (MSDS) on them. If not, get the product names and manufacturer and look up the MSDS on line. At least then you will have the information you need to protect yourself from the wafting fumes. Hopefully he is adhering to the safety sheet information too. He needs to consider those around him too.
    Glad to see the tractor. You folks will find you will use it for a lot of things that otherwise would tax you physically.


    • Helen

      Thanks Mike, it’s certainly hard to pin point the exact culprit but I’ve no doubt that it’s like you say, after a point it only takes a little to get a reaction, like your body’s saying it’s had enough.
      The tractor is already coming in for tasks I hadn’t imagined, and Richard’s list of ‘necessary’ attachments grows daily!

      • mike murray

        You two constantly amaze me in how heads-up you are about so many things. This problem with the headaches and fumes, the knowledge you have about it, and what you have done to address it is just one example of what I am talking about. Good job.

        The attachments will make the tractor that much more of a help to you both. I can’t make out the name on the tractor but it resembles a Wheelhorse. If it is anything like a Wheelhorse it should be a stout one and should be really handy. If it doesn’t have a lift for the attachments that would go on the back, you could make one using an electric actuator. Not hard to do if you have access to a welder and some metal. Then you could use attachments like row cultivator, plow, disc, hiller, etc. Besides pulling things like trailers. All the best with it.

  6. Micheal Kingsley

    Cute tiny Tractor. Here in the States we use those to mow lawns. The ones we call tractors are a great deal bigger than that. Don’t overtax the poor thing and it will be a great help. Of course any help is good help, so watch you health and keep the air blowing through. I know I can’t even touch wet Lacquer without swelling up and getting the worst headache. So now I’m stuck with water based everything. Too much Lacquer work when I was younger when they didn’t do respirators or anything to protect you from the fumes. I was told it’s not a question of being allergic, it is more the question of WHEN are you going to be allergic! It catches up to all of us eventually.

  7. Ken

    I can only echo what everyone else has said buddy. Take it easy guys you will get there I’m sure. 😉

  8. Dave Nighswander

    Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), a component and solvent for fiberglass resin, has that effect on a lot of people and is considered a hazardous chemical.
    It causes liver damage and is a known carcinogen.
    Glad to see you are working on a solution.

  9. Tom

    I am sorry to hear about this, but what are the chemicals doing to your neighbour ??

  10. Robert F

    A horrible and scary issue. Your response is admirable. If the solution is to accelerate your move to the Temple please spare a thought for the next poor soul who may move into the space you are leaving … it is definitely a Health and Safety issue for your neighbour and landlord if they are allowing tenants to be poisoned.

    Awesome tractor!

  11. Damien

    Closing the doors and adding a few kg of activated carbon (pond quality) to a workshop air filtration system could improve the situation.

  12. Paul Chapman

    Blimey, Richard, quite a scary experience. Glad to hear you’re getting on top of the problem. Take care.

  13. Brian

    I think that you maybe experiencing a reaction to Styrene Monomer.
    A search will bring up the MSDS and it is well worth reading.
    You really do need to reduce your exposure, I worked in a plant were it was manufactured and we took exposure very seriously, the short and long term effects are not to be ignored in any way. At 5 ppm, we wore masks with organic vapour canisters, at 20 ppm we decontaminated the whole area.
    For you to be affected in the way you have described, there must be a very high exposure danger.

  14. Chris Buckingham,France

    These chemicals can have a delayed effect, especially Xlylene, which is probably being used to clean moulds, the headache you are getting is typical of that chemical, the problem is that with the extractors needed in his workshop, he is inflicting everyone in the area around him, I should have thought that it was illegal for such a company to be using chemicals that would cause a third party such a problem. Expecting any result from a legal confrontation within 5 years is probably unrealistic. You could point out the situation to your landlord and see what he comes up with.

  15. Brian

    I mentioned the danger to health earlier but have you considered the risk of fire?
    If your neighbour is so careless with the use of any chemical to the point of making others ill with exposure, what are the chances that he is not taking sufficient care with the storage. Whatever he is using is obviously volatile and more than likely highly flammable.
    Can you not only take chances with your health but also the loss of equipment and materials in your business?
    I would be very surprised if there is no regulatory authority that you cannot contact with a complaint and then expect to see very quick action.

  16. Jim Pape

    Awful story but glad you figured it out, and it’s fortunate that you have the wherewithal to escape. I feel for the folks working in the nearby facility, must be hell for them – might be worth a friendly mention to owners and whomever takes care of your air quality in the UK – sounds toxic. Just because your self-employed doesn’t mean you have to be an industrial casualty. Anyway, happy you have an answer and can get relief. Best from Vermont!

  17. Mike B

    I got a headache on March 24th, it got worse and I went to Urgent care on the 26th and they sent me to the Emergency Room, they did a CT Scan and a few hours later I was in surgery having holes drilled in my skull and fluid drained from my brain. They said I had a Sub-dural Hematoma but the bad thing is they don’t know what caused it.
    Not a fun time.

  18. DenverGeorge

    So when are you taking delivery on a steam engine to run your line shaft machinery at the barns? Glad you figured out what the problem was.

  19. fred

    At least we now live in an age when it is no longer acceptable for a worker to put his/her life or health at risk just to hold down a job.
    You should report this to both HSE and your local environmental health officer. You are not only helping you but those who have to work in that situation. There is no doubt a risk of environmental pollution, health issues from the fumes and the risk of fire.
    The enforcement agencies are not just traffic wardens who issue tickets but will educate the business owner and give them time to change their working method…. this is not grassing on anyone but a matter of life and death (that is no exaggeration)

  20. Michael Forster

    Sounds like a really scary experience – especially at the early stage when it wasn’t explained. If it helps at all, I’m one customer you can definitely move further down the list to give yourself some space – what you’re doing for me is not in any way urgent.
    Look after yourselves, the pair of you.

  21. Michael Forster

    I’ve just had a narrow escape from something similar. I decided to try some new timber and ordered, among other things, some wenge. Then I started getting dire warnings from friends who’d used it and regretted – one involved an entire workshop being cleared of affected people in a chemical leak scare – and it was only a small piece being worked. I managed to change the order at no cost to myself and got some much safer (and familiar) American black walnut instead. IN future, before ordering any new species of timber I’ll check out the toxicology issues.

  22. Coolerjack

    I’ve just read your post and thought you should know this from the HASAW :

    Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

    Section 3(1) of the same Act states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

  23. Patrick

    It’s been a while since this post. Everything ok healthwise?

  24. Peter McKinlay

    Wow- That’s pretty bloody ordinary of your neighbour.

    Hope you can getnan amicable solution- your neighbour needs to be straightened out before he seriously injures someone.

  25. Tom

    I see from another post that this fumes issue is still a problem for you. You really should report this to the local council’s Environmental Protection department. Prohibition orders against air pollution can be issued immediately if necessary. If not for you own sake, think of what damage is being done to the local wildlife and goodness knows what your neighbour may be putting into the watercourse too. Please report it.


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