A guide to making a No Win No Fee solvent exposure claim
Solvents, also known as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), are used in a wide variety of industries, including engineering, construction, footwear, textiles, rubber, dry cleaning, chemical, woodworking and printing.
If not managed with appropriate procedures, training and protective equipment, some solvents can cause serious and long-term health problems.
If an employee or member of the public is harmed by negligent use or storage of solvents, the affected individual may be entitled to make an industrial disease compensation claim.
Solvent exposure in the workplace
Potentially harmful solvents include acetone, ethyl acetate, toluene, xylene and white spirit.
When working in an environment that may involve exposure to harmful solvents, there are three paths in which these chemicals can the body and cause injury. In most cases, solvents can be inhaled, ingested or swallowed, or absorbed into the skin.
Employers must take reasonable steps to protect employees with suitable PPE, but exposure alone may not be sufficient grounds for a claim. If the employer had taken all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of staff and exposure still occurs, pursuing a claim may be difficult. Success may depend on the facts of the case.
What are the symptoms of solvent exposure?
The symptoms experienced as a result of VOCs entering your bloodstream can vary, depending on the level of exposure and the length of time involved. In the short term, inhaling, ingesting or absorbing solvents can make an affected individual feel nauseous and dizzy, and they may experience a headache.
Because the symptoms are similar to being drunk, a affected employee is more likely to make an error in judgement that could cause further harm.
Solvents can also cause irritation of the eyes and skin, such as itching or rashes. In addition, the lungs can be affected by VOC exposure, potentially making breathing more difficult. In the longer-term, sleep problems and psychological issues can also become apparent.
If an individual is exposed to VOCs over a long period of time, they may experience symptoms such as problems with kidney and liver functions. Solvents can also cause damage to the brain and central nervous system, and affect fertility levels. Some solvents are also considered to be carcinogenic.
A solicitor will arrange for a detailed medical report to be carried out at the outset of a claim to ensure that the appropriate level of compensation is sought.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
If your work involves potential exposure to solvents, your employer has a legal obligation to prevent this exposure from reaching dangerous levels. Solvents are one of several chemicals that are governed by regulations known as Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). These regulations are designed to protect people who are working with dangerous chemicals, and prevent health problems from occurring as a result.
The Health and Safety Executive recommends that employers in industries that use solvents should follow an 'assess, control and review approach'.
Assessing involves determining the exact nature of work that involves using solvents, as well as who will be completing this work. The employer should also ascertain whether or not there may be others working in the vicinity who may be affected.
Employers should determine what level of solvents are in the chemicals that are to be used, as well as checking how volatile these levels are: do they evaporate on reaching room temperature, for example? How the work is to be completed is an important consideration. For example, spraying with solvent based chemicals is considered a lot more hazardous than painting.
The environment in which VOCs are used is an important component of the COSHH guidelines. Employers must review the size of the area in which people are working with these chemicals, and make checks for appropriate ventilation.
Employees should not be exposed to solvents at all where possible. If this is not possible, organisations have an obligation to control exposure as much as is practical. They should provide Personal Protective Equipment such as goggles, gloves, overalls and Respiratory Protective Equipment where needed.
Employers are also obliged to provide appropriate training, and to make regular checks on equipment and employees themselves. If these obligations are not met, and you have been exposed to solvents in a manner that has endangered your health, you may be entitled to claim compensation.
What to do next
Making the right decision depends on having the right information. Get your questions answered before you instruct a lawyer with a free consultation - call Quittance on 0800 612 7456 if you have any questions, or visit our Help and Advice resources.