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How much compensation can I claim for occupational asthma?

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Paul Carvis

Panel Personal Injury Solicitor

A guide to making a No Win No Fee occupational asthma claim

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently reported that there were an estimated 177 new cases of occupational asthma seen by chest physicians in one year. Undiagnosed figures for wider work-related asthma cases (asthma caused or made worse by work) are estimated to be more than 10 times higher.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition and causes a narrowing of the bronchial walls. Commonly triggered by dust, pollen and exercise, asthma is also the subject of compensation claims for workplace-related illness following exposure to allergens or chemicals found in the work environment.

Which industries see the most asthma-related claims?

Occupational asthma can occur in a range of industries. However, the HSE report that the manufacturing industry has the highest incidence of occupational asthma (3 cases per 100,000 per year). Manufacturers of motor vehicles, food products and basic metals are identified as having the most cases.

What substances cause occupational asthma?

Isocyanates and flour/grain are recognised as the agents responsible for the highest proportion of new cases of occupational asthma and exposure to these substances is frequently cited in claims.

Isocyanates are widely used in the manufacture of foams, fibres and coatings such as paints and varnishes. Vehicle paint technicians have the highest incidence rate. For flour/grain exposure, bakers are most commonly affected.

Other common agents known to cause occupational asthma include:

  • Wood dusts
  • Solder/colophony
  • Stainless steel welding
  • Laboratory animals
  • Hardening agents
  • Latex
  • Cleaning products
  • Enzymes/amylase
  • Cutting oils and coolants

Diagnosing occupational asthma

The severity of asthma symptoms varies from person to person. In many cases it is controllable, whilst in others more persistent problems including a permanent narrowing of the bronchial walls can occur.

Asthma symptoms can gradually or suddenly get worse leading to an asthma attack.

Asthma caused by work factors falls into two main categories:

  • Allergic occupational asthma - this is seen in the majority of cases and typically occurs a period of time after exposure
  • Irritant-induced occupational asthma - typically occurs a few hours following exposure to high levels of gas, fume and vapour

Diagnosis is not always straightforward, particularly in allergic occupational asthma. This is because the symptoms - which include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness - are similar to a range of lung diseases.

The injury claim medical report

A medical report confirming the asthma diagnosis will be a key piece of evidence in support of a claim. This report will be arranged by the Claimant's solicitor.

An independent doctor will ask questions regarding work and medical history, recent symptoms and family history of asthma or allergies. The doctor may also carry out lung function tests.

If asthma is diagnosed and considered to be the result of workplace exposure, a solicitor can advise on the next steps.

What is the law regarding occupational asthma?

Occupational asthma is a preventable condition, and the responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent it lies with the employer.

Under the Health and Safety and Work etc Act 1974, employers have a legal duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees. This includes carrying out a risk assessment of the workplace and putting in ‘reasonable' measures to protect staff from any dangers.

More specifically, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH) requires employers to manage exposure to dangerous substances where they cannot be removed or substituted - which includes chemicals and allergens.

If an employer fails to do any of the following, and a person develops occupational asthma as a result, this may amount to negligence. The employer must:

  • Minimise the emission, release and spread of substances known to cause or potentially cause asthma
  • Ensure adequate air filtration systems are installed and maintained
  • Provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), such as breathing apparatus
  • Provide staff training on the risks and how to effectively apply the controls
  • Continually review the risks and update procedures as required

A solicitor can advise on what evidence would be needed to prove negligence. This evidence will usually include medical reports and an employer's health and safety records.

Guaranteed No Win, No Fee - Pay nothing if you lose your claim

A no win no fee agreement ( called a Conditional Fee Agreement or CFA) is agreed between the claimant and a specialist injury solicitor.

A CFA is essentially the conditions under which the solicitor works for the client.

The CFA documents what the solicitors will do as well as how the solicitor is paid if your case is successful.

If you decide to choose our solicitors for your occupational asthma claim there are no sneaky hidden costs in the terms and conditions , no up-front fees and the reassurance that you will never be out of pocket.

Next steps

Get more information

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