Occupational disease claims are those claims which arise where an employee has developed a medical condition or disease through repeated or prolonged exposure to a harmful effect at work.

Personal Injury Solicitors and Occupational Disease Claims

Some of the more common injuries are:-

  • Noise-induced hearing loss – Industrial deafness is caused by long-term exposure to noise, but the hearing problems can sometimes start to take effect often in retirement. Although some people put their problem down to general ageing rather than exposure to work-related noise many years before. Hearing loss is generally irreversible and hearing aids are the most common way to address symptoms of the condition.

Here are some of the industries where industrial deafness is commonplace:

• Steelworks
• Power Stations
• Textile Industry
• Construction and engineering
• Factories and mills
• Processing
• Shipbuilding
• Stone cutting and quarrying

The first symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss include:

• Having to turn the television up loud
• Partners thinking they’re being ignored
• Missing parts of a conversation
• Not being able to hear a conversation where there is background noise

  • Dermatitis or skin damage – Symptoms of dermatitis include redness, itching, blotchiness and cracking of the skin. Not everyone will develop all of these symptoms or the same combination of symptoms. Individuals whose work includes contact with chemicals, certain soaps and cleaning materials are more likely to develop dermatitis. This can include people who are employed in beauty salons, hospitals, chemical manufacturing, biological plants, cleaning companies and florists because workers are regularly exposed to a wide range allergenic and irritant chemicals such as dyes, paints and bleaches.
  • Repetitive strain injury from repeated hand/finger/wrist movements or movements of the shoulder – When considering making a repetitive strain injury claim you will need to prove the following –
    – Your employer has failed in their legal duty to keep you safe from harm and in turn, was negligent
    – Your repetitive strain injury was caused by these negligent work practices
  • Occupational asthma/bronchitis/breathing problems caused by exposure to dust and fumes – Occupational asthma and bronchitis symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness and can be caused by exposure to grain dust, ammonia, strong acids, chlorine and textiles (fabric fibres) that can damage your lungs.
  • Injuries from the use of vibrating tools, caused by the effects of prolonged vibration – Hand arm vibration syndrome is a condition which can be caused by the effects of prolonged use of vibrating tools.
  • Stress (a mental injury) – If you wish to pursue a stress-related claim against an employer, you will need to prove the following things:
    – The employer has breached a duty of care and that a recognised psychiatric injury was caused by the breach of duty
    – The victim will also need to prove the injury was foreseeable in a legal sense and intervention wasn’t attempted by the employer when a psychiatric injury was likely to happen
    – Under the Protection from Harassment Act, a claim can be brought for anxiety, extreme bullying and persecution or a psychiatric injury.
  • Exposure to asbestos – If you’ve previously worked in an environment where asbestos was present and regularly experience the following symptoms you could be suffering from an asbestos-related illness and entitled to claim for compensation:

– Shortness of breath, a persistent cough or wheezing
– Fatigue or tiredness or swollen fingertips
– Pain in your chest or shoulder

In such cases, the exposure to the substance or to the harmful thing will normally have taken place over a period of time.

Cases involving exposure long ago can require proof that your employer should have been aware of the risk of harm.  This can only be judged with the state of health and safety knowledge at the time.  This aspect is known as “foreseeability”.  Where an injury or disease can be foreseen, a duty to take care will arise (Negligence/General Liability).

Certain illnesses have generally recognised “dates of knowledge” being dates when most employers should have been aware of the risk.

Some employees exposed to a harmful effect may suffer injury and some may not.  If it can be proved that the exposure caused or materially contributed to the onset of the disease or condition, you may have a valid claim.  If an injury or disease can be foreseen to some of the employees exposed, but not to all the employees exposed, a duty of care will still arise and if the duty is breached by the employer, the employer cannot say that the effect was more serious in a certain employee because of some specific vulnerability which he or she possessed.

In many cases, specific regulations apply such as:-

  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 which regulate exposure to certain harmful substances.  Exposure to some substances is unlawful and in other cases, a risk assessment must be carried out and steps implemented to reduce the risk to a safe level or better still, eliminate the risk altogether.  Instruction and training must be provided
  • The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 which apply to noise exposure from 1990, and the Noise at Work Regulations 2005 which apply from 2006.  The 1990 noise limit was 85-90 decibels and in 2006 it was reduced to 80 to 85 decibels over an 8 hour day.  The lower limit is the first action level – an employer must assess the risk and reduce it to the lowest level practicable by providing hearing protection.  The upper limit is the second action level.  At this level, the source of the noise must be reduced.
  • Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 and earlier regulations such as the Asbestos Regulations 1969 and Control of Asbestos at Work Regs 1987.  The regulations set hygiene levels for workers exposed to airborne asbestos fibres.  Lack of knowledge that asbestos is present does not provide a defence for an employer.  The difficulty with asbestos claims is the long interval (15 to 20 years) between exposure and illness.

Contact Salmons Solicitors for Personal Injury Advice

Speak to Salmons Solicitors for a consultation meeting regarding your case. Our personal injury solicitors will provide clarity and advice on whether you can make a case for occupational disease.