TCE exposure compensation claims

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How much compensation can I claim for trichloroethylene (TCE) exposure?

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Jonathan Speight

Panel Senior Litigator

A guide to making a No Win No Fee tce trichloroethylene exposure (trike) claim

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a non-flammable liquid chlorinated hydrocarbon used as an industrial solvent.

A known toxin, it is also an irritant and probable carcinogen and has been the cause of numerous industrial disease claims.

Employers have a duty to protect workers from the risks associated with TCE or trike. This includes keeping exposure within the recommended guidelines using preventative controls and measures.

If excessive or repeated exposure has occurred as a result of an employer's negligence, resulting in illness, it may be possible to make a claim for compensation.

TCE exposure in the workplace

Exposure to trichloroethylene can be environmental, notably in areas where it is manufactured. However, workers involved in the manufacture or use of trichloroethylene, particularly in the degreasing industry, are often exposed to much higher levels.

TCE is sold under various brand names and is mainly used in metal cleaning, vapour degreasing and paint stripping. It is also used as an extraction agent and as a chemical intermediate. Industries using trike include: car manufacturing, aerospace, production of PVC and textile treatments.

Despite the risks associated with exposure, unsafe practices in TCE usage continue.

What are the risks of trike?

Trichloroethylene is a central nervous system depressant. It is rapidly absorbed through ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact. Once absorbed it distributes throughout the body via the circulatory system. Most is metabolized or exhaled. However, where exposure is continuous or excessive, levels can become high enough to cause damage.

According to the Health Protection Agency, recognised symptoms associated with TCE exposure include:

  • Dizziness and heightened emotions
  • Headache followed by drowsiness
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Burning of the mouth, throat and stomach
  • Skin irritation, dermatitis and burns injuries
  • Eye injuries, including burning and stinging

Trichloroethylene is also classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as probably carcinogenic to humans. In addition, significant associations have been made to Parkinsons disease. Cases for both cancer and Parkinsons have been seen in claims.

Where the symptoms of trike exposure are immediate, a workplace should have first aid procedures in place to respond. The accident should also be recorded in the official work accident book. For persistent illnesses and long latency diseases, a solicitor can arrange a medical to confirm a diagnosis and to establish whether trike is a probable cause.

What are the recommended levels of TCE?

The EU Commissions workplace exposure limits (WELs), approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), set the concentration of hazardous substances in the air, averaged over time. Two time periods are used - 8 hours (long term) and 15 minutes (short term). For trichloroethylene exposure limits are:

  • 8 hour period: 100 ppm (550 mg m-3)
  • 15 min period: 150 ppm (820 mg m-3)

The short time periods are set to prevent effects such as eye irritation which can occur within a few minutes. The longer periods are set to prevent long-term, ongoing exposure that can lead to other illness.

What legislation protects workers?

A number of regulations apply where TCE exposure occurs in the workplace. This includes the Health and Safety of Work etc Act 1974. As TCE has been assigned a WEL, it is also subject to the provisions of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

Under COSHH an employer is required to prevent or control exposure to trichloroethylene. Control is only deemed adequate if the principles of good control practice are applied, the WEL is not exceeded and exposure is reduced as low as is reasonably practical.

Common breaches of COSHH in relation to TCE

An employer who fails to identify the risks or implement appropriate control measures as set out in COSHH, would be deemed negligent and therefore liable. Examples of breaches include:

  • A solution containing trichloroethylene used to degrease metal parts coming into contact with a workers skin due to insufficient protective clothing
  • A worker is exposed to harmful fumes when metal components are dipped into uncovered trike-filled tanks due to lack of adequate breathing apparatus
  • An employer did not adequately train an employee on the risks of TCE or on how to report faults in equipment

In order to prove a breach, evidence such as witness statements and company health and safety records should be sought. A solicitor can assist in this process. If an employer accepts liability, the agreed compensation amount should be paid through their employers liability insurance. This figure will be based on the extent of the injury or illness and proof of any additional expenses, such as loss of earnings.

Next steps

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