PCB exposure claims

Introduction

Updated: October 8, 2018

In 1986, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) use was banned in the UK for risks to health and the environment. Despite the ban, people have since suffered exposure - most notably in the workplace.

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If a person is affected by a PCB-related health condition, which can be related to negligent work practices, they are entitled to make an industrial disease claim.

Chemical worker

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If you were injured following PCB exposure in the last three years and someone else was to blame, then we can help you make a compensation claim.

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Where are PCBs found?

PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals with stable, fire resistant properties. They comprise of 209 different chlorinated compounds. From the 1930s they were widely used as coolants, insulating materials and lubricants in electrical equipment.

Despite no longer being manufactured, PCBs can still be found in products dating before the ban. This includes paints, rubber products and plastics. In addition, they can be emitted from old electrical devices such as: refrigerators; televisions; transformers; switchgear; capacitors; and in starter units of fluorescent lights and fractional horsepower motors.

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Who is at risk of exposure?

Because PCBs can leak into the environment, anyone is potentially at risk. However, claims relating to PCBs are typically attributed to exposure in the workplace.

Old equipment in plants, factories and industrial sites may still emit PCBs in the manufacturing process. In addition, workers involved in the removal, repair or disposal of PCB containing equipment or material are also susceptible to contamination.

PCBs usually enter the body through contact with the skin. They can also be ingested through breathing in fumes or through swallowing. Inadequate protective equipment is frequently cited as a cause of PCB exposure, and may be evidence of an employer's negligence.

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Work-related PCB conditions

People who have been exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls and gone on to make claims have been affected by a number of health conditions. These include:

  • Chloracne - which produces pustules, blackheads and cysts
  • Liver damage
  • Encotrine disorders - of the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal gland
  • Inhibited immune system
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Workplace-related cancer

If a person believes they have been affected, it is recommended they seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. A solicitor can help arrange a medical examination to confirm diagnosis. A doctor can also assess whether PCB exposure is a likely cause by asking questions relating to employment history.

Where workplace exposure to PCB is probable, a person has three years from the diagnosis to make a claim.

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What legislation is in place to protect workers?

There are two main pieces of legislation which guide employer actions in relation to PCB exposure in the workplace.

  1. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers protect the health, safety and welfare of their workers, as is reasonably practical. This includes ensuring employees are suitably trained to use safety equipment and the correct working practices.
  2. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations COSHH (2002) places more specific duties on an employer in relation to PCB. This includes:
  • Identifying PCB in the workplace - often equipment is labelled but not always
  • Ensuring exposure is either prevented or controlled
  • Assessing the risks to health and adopting suitable measures to control them
  • Monitoring exposure Informing employees of the risks of PCBs and safe working practices

Where an employer has breached their legal duties in preventing exposure to PCB, resulting in a connected health condition, a claim can be made.

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Common workplace PCB claims

Examples of employer breaches resulting in PCB exposure include a failure to:

  • provide suitable personal protective equipment such as impervious boilersuits or overalls, gloves, overshoes, chemical resistant goggles or a respirator
  • provide adequate training on the risks of PCB or effectively ensure adherence to recommended working practices
  • carry out sufficient equipment checks resulting in a preventable leakage of PCB into the work environment
  • appropriately deal with a PCB leakage or damaged PCB equipment or arrange a specialist contractor

In order to prove these types of negligent breaches occurred, relevant evidence is required. Alongside medical reports, this can include company health and safety records, witness statements or other registered cases of PCB in the same workplace.

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What if a claim relates to a former employer?

Because of the history of PCB manufacture and usage, PCB exposure claims often relate to past employment. In these cases, a solicitor can help trace a former employers insurers using the Employers Lliability Tracing Office (ELTO) and records held at Companies House. Even if an employer has ceased trading or a business has been taken over, the insurers can still be traced.

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How much compensation can I claim for PCB exposure?

The amount of compensation you will receive depends on a number of factors. Our personal injury compensation calculator provides an accurate estimate of your likely compensation.

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Meet the team

The national network of QLS solicitors help injured people with all types of industrial disease claims, from less-severe claims to long-term injuries. Chosen on the basis of their success rate in winning claims, our solicitors have years of experience.

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Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
Tim Fieldhouse Industrial Disease Panel Solicitor
Shahida Chaudery Complex Injury Claims Panel Solicitor
Jonathan Speight, Senior litigator

About the author

Jonathan has over 30 years' experience in the personal injury sector and has been awarded the rank of Senior Litigator by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

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