My name is David; I live in Cambridgeshire and I joined Wikaniko as an independent distributor in August 2013. But when I began putting out catalogues with the aim of building a local customer base, I was not sure how well the products would be received. But there was nothing to worry about. The more catalogues I put out, the more customers I found, eager to take advantage of the beneficial nature of the Wikaniko range. Since then, I have established a good customer base with many customers ordering on a regular basis.
To keep my catalogue customers up to date with any significant news, I produce a small regular newsletter which I distribute with the catalogue. I also contribute to the team newsletter. On Saturday 18th October, I received an email from Trevor at Wikaniko HQ inviting me to write a regular article for the new customer newsletter. With the prospect of being able to share and expand my thoughts to a larger audience across the country and beyond, I duly accepted the role.
In my first article, I will answer a key question posed by Wikaniko: ‘Do we really have to tolerate the 250 harmful chemicals found in the average household?’ Being fortunate enough to be involved with selling and using Wikaniko products, I can confidently say ‘No!’
But just the mention of harmful chemicals sends a shiver down my spine. Many years ago, chemicals effectively destroyed my working life.
For twenty years I worked for electronics company Continental Microwave in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. The company was a leading supplier of microwave equipment for the broadcast and telecommunications markets. I was a senior technician engineer responsible for running a department that manufactured microwave devices. My duties included manufacture control, staff development and writing procedures in readiness for outside audits. I acquired my skills having previously worked for two Essex companies: Marconi in Billericay and Nore Microwave in Shoeburyness. Both are no longer trading.
I started working at Marconi in 1973 and was soon introduced to the world of chemicals, solder, and adhesives. In those days, there were no meaningful health and safety requirements so I spent day after day breathing in hazardous chemical, solder and adhesive fumes oblivious that my health was at risk.
I moved from Essex to Cambridgeshire in 1980 when I was offered a job at Continental Microwave. And although I was soon promoted to senior technician engineer, I was still breathing in hazardous fumes; still oblivious to the dangers I was being subjected to.
But then something happened that revolutionized factory working practices. In 1988, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) were introduced. Employers were now responsible for carrying out a risk assessment when exposure of any substance to an employee could not be prevented. Any substance found to be hazardous required subsequent safeguards.
Continental Microwave acted accordingly. Employees were instructed to use special dispenses when using cleaning solvents. All soldering had to be carried out using extraction facilities. Any jobs involving hazardous substances had to be carried out in an extraction chamber. Employees had to wear protective gloves when handling hazardous adhesives. And after each risk assessment employees had to sign a document declaring they understood any risk and would take the necessary safeguards to protect themselves and their colleagues.
Some of the documentation did not make good reading. I discovered one adhesive I was using had the potential to turn my skin purple. And another adhesive which I had used every day for years was deemed a suspect carcinogenic. I knew it was hazardous as it had occasionally caused one of my eye lids to redden and become sore. But I had naively just carried on using it. As for the potential risks associated with the chemicals we were using, I just felt lucky to still be alive.
I have to admit, it was not easy to implement the measures. There were times when total avoidance of substances deemed hazardous bordered on the impossible. But one thing was certain. The new regulations were a godsend. The workplace had become a safer and healthier environment.
But then during late 2000, I developed a sore throat which I attributed to a virus. But it didn’t go away. I had it at home; I had it at work and it was only at weekends did my throat feel better. Then I became aware that the soreness was worse when I was setting up microwave devices using my oscilloscope based test equipment. The test procedure involved using an adhesive which had been deemed safe to use without precautions.
When the factory manager learnt of this, he immediately told me to suspend testing until the adhesive could be re-evaluated. Two days later the health and safety officer gave the adhesive the all clear.
Eventually, my doctor referred me to the hospital where a camera was inserted down my throat. The consultant then told me my throat had become sensitized and the only way forward was for me to wear a mask if adequate extraction was not available.
Back at the factory, I tried working while wearing a gas mask. Suffice it to say: it was an experience tantamount to a bad dream. Unfortunately the mask failed. The fumes were still penetrating. And even the extraction chamber for me seemed to be losing its power of protection – even after a new filter had been fitted. As head of my department, I had production targets to meet so I just had to grin and bear the discomfort. There was nothing I could do. Things could not get any worse – or so I thought.
It was mid-January 2001. My throat was still making my life a misery. I was working at my bench when I was summoned to the manager’s office. The Production Manager had travelled up from the company’s main site at Luton. He wanted to see me. Without any inkling to the purpose of his visit, I sat down opposite him. He did not waste any time. Due to rationalization, I was being made redundant. My department was to be transferred to Luton. But he did say I could stay on with the company by agreeing to work on another department at St Ives but I would have to accept a 50% cut in my salary.
I did think about it but opted for redundancy. I did wonder if my health had been a factor in their decision but they assured me it wasn’t. Unbeknown to me, the company was in financial difficulty and losing my job was just the beginning? The site at St Ives later closed and eventually Continental Microwave ceased trading.
So where did that leave me? After leaving Continental Microwave, I took a break to allow my throat to settle. A week later, I felt much better and began the process of looking for another job. As my job experience had been of a specialised nature, I knew only my transferrable skills were going to help me. So I started applying for jobs where I could use my soldering skills.
It did not take long before I attended my first meaningful interview and as expected I was asked to do a trade test. I was given a few printed circuit board components to solder. The company gave nothing away and said they would let me know.
That was the last time I ever attended an interview for a soldering related job. For the next three days, my throat was bad again. I knew then that I couldn’t go back to an environment that was going to adversely affect my throat. It was the end of the road. I had lost my job. I had lost my trade. And I had lost my pride.
I can’t categorically say what ultimately was responsible for sensitizing my throat, but bearing in mind all the years I spent working with chemicals, solder and adhesives, I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Today my throat still remains sensitized. So I still have to take particular care what products I use. But I bear no bitterness towards the three companies that employed me. They had acted appropriately according to the times. I only wish the COSHH regulations had been brought in sooner: I only wish I had appreciated the dangers associated with breathing harmful fumes all those years ago.
So when Wikaniko warn us of the 250 dangerous chemicals found in the average household, I take it seriously. Sadly, though, the COSHH regulations don’t extend to households. We don’t have health and safety officers patrolling the streets knocking on doors checking that we are not endangering our lives. And we don’t have expensive extraction systems installed in our homes. But there is an alternative; a safer way; a healthier way. And it has been with us since 2008. It’s called Wikaniko.
As for me, I can’t turn back the clock and undo years of exposure to hazardous chemicals. I am also a migraine sufferer, and I first started getting them while working at Marconi. Exposure to some chemicals is a known migraine trigger. But I didn’t know that, all those years ago.
When I left Continental Microwave, migraines was just one of a few other complaints that had become a part of my life. So much so that they had rendered me unfit for many jobs. I only realised this when I started looking for a job in another field. This led to me seeking help from a charity linked with the Job Centre. Eventually I accepted a home based role with the National Kidney Research Fund – now Kidney Research UK – whereby I raised money for the charity by promoting door to door collections, lotteries and donations. Although the wages were just a fraction of what I had been used to, I was working for a good cause. My pride was back.
Meanwhile, my wife had gone from part time to full time and had become the main wage earner. Fortunately, I have a caring and understanding wife. But then, after seven years, I lost my charity job when the call centre which provided me with call sheets closed down.
Having taken a break to recover from a bad shoulder, I began looking for another meaningful opportunity. Two more short lived jobs followed and then I turned to the internet. I was looking for something that would allow me to work around my health problems; something that would give me hope for the future; something that would give me a sense of purpose; and an opportunity I could be proud of. After looking at many possibilities, one stood out. My prayers had been answered. I had found Wikaniko.
I hope you benefited from my story. Look out for the next newsletter!
Article written by David Seaton, Independent Distributor for Wikaniko. (Working from home)