Industrial Disease Claims

preventing hearing damage at building workEmployers in any industry are charged with a duty of care to their employees and a legal framework to ensure minimum risk of endangering them.

Mark Reynolds Solicitors work hard to ensure that anyone pursuing litigation arising from industrial disease receives the highest possible standards of representation.

Industrial disease claims

Industrial disease claims apply to workplace injuries that are not from one-off accidents, or to illnesses or conditions resulting from unsafe working practices or from being exposed to certain substances.

Industrial accident, industrial injury or occupational disease can all come under this category, depending on the circumstances.

We explain here what industrial disease means, and look at what kinds there are.

We will also look at what, and how, you can claim for industrial disease, whether your employer is responsible and why industrial diseases occur.

Finally, we explain the industrial disease claims process and how long it can take.

What is an industrial disease?

The term industrial disease covers more than just diseases.

In fact, it can apply to any condition or illness caused in some way by your employment.

This is important because the word disease may suggest only certain kinds of illnesses or conditions when, in fact, it can mean many different things.

Industrial diseases usually come about following exposure to dangerous substances, or as a result of a failure of health and safety procedures to adequately protect an individual while they’re at work.

Where there is exposure to unsafe working practices, often an industrial disease will occur over an extended period.

Therefore, it can be that an industrial disease claim involves looking into someone’s working history.

This sort of investigation is detailed, but necessary.

Because an industrial disease may be the result of prolonged exposure to unsafe working conditions, occasionally potential claimants are unaware their health problems relate to their job and place of work.

However, just because you have not made the connection between your work and your illness, does not mean you cannot make an industrial disease claim.

As with other claims, it hinges on proving your employer has failed in their duty of care to you, under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), around 1.4 million workers in the UK suffer from work-related ill health.

If you are one of them, you may be eligible to make an industrial illness claim for compensation.

Next, we look at what kinds of industrial illnesses there are with examples of the most common conditions, injuries and illnesses.

What kinds of industrial disease are there?

There are many different types of industrial disease because there are many different conditions employees can develop at work that have been caused by employers failing in their duty of care.

Some of these diseases can be severe, or even fatal.

In certain cases, therefore, an industrial disease claim helps a family claim compensation on behalf of a sufferer.

Some of the most common conditions, injuries or illnesses which count as industrial diseases include:

  • Acoustic shock – this is one of several injuries that can cause significant hearing damage. Acoustic shock happens when there is a sudden high-volume or high-pitched sound. It is common in call centres and it can occur when there are technical faults such as feedback. It may also happen where there is equipment in the workplaces such as amplifiers. Other unexpected sound can also cause acoustic shock, such as sudden, loud impact noises.
  • Tinnitus – another hearing-related condition, tinnitus causes high-pitched ringing, humming or buzzing in the ears. It can come from acoustic shock (see above) or exposure to other loud noises.
  • Industrial deafness – industrial deafness or noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) often affects those people who have worked in noisy environments where their employer has not provided the right kind of protection or training.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – this is a form of repetitive strain injury, affecting the wrist and hand. It causes numbness, weakness and a tingling or burning sensation in the hand and fingers. It can be caused by direct pressure on the base of the palm, which sits over the carpal tunnel.
  • Repetitive strain injuries – other repetitive strain injuries include bursitis, ulnar neuropathy and vibration white finger. Bursitis affects the knees and elbows; ulnar neuropathy affects the little and ring fingers; and vibration white finger is a common hand injury caused by holding vibrating tools.
  • Respiratory diseases – these include occupational asthma and silicosis, typically occurring from exposure to dust, vapour, gas or fumes.
  • Mesothelioma – this is a cancer that affects the lining of the lung and the chest wall and is caused by exposure to asbestos, from inhaling asbestos fibres. Another lung disease cause by asbestos exposure is pleural thickening, which also affects the lining of the lungs, with symptoms including difficulty in breathing and chest pain.
  • Skin diseases – people can suffer various skin diseases and conditions from exposure to chemicals and other substances at work. Chemical poisoning or contact with allergens and irritating substances can lead to occupational dermatitis.
  • Welding injuries – as well as the potential to cause burns to the skin, welding can also damage the surface of the eye, with a condition known as arc eye. Welding also produces intense heat and fumes, which can cause respiratory illnesses.

These are just some of the examples of the kinds of industrial disease claims people make, as a result of their employers failing to protect them.

Can you always sue for industrial disease?

welding accident claimsIf you have developed an industrial disease or illness from being at work, it does not automatically mean you can make a successful industrial disease claim.

As with other types of personal injury claim, a successful outcome depends on two main things:

  • Establishing your disease and its causes
  • Proving it has been caused by your employer’s negligence

The law requires employers to provide adequate protection for the wellbeing of their staff, including protecting them from any health risks at work.

This protection can take various forms:

  • Training for risks and instructions for carrying out safe procedures
  • Providing the right kind of safety equipment and the training to use it properly, or
  • Ensuring the working environment is safe to work in, with sufficient ventilation, protection, warning signs.

Failure to follow best practice can, unfortunately, be common, leading to employees suffering from industrial diseases.

If you believe your employer has failed in their responsibilities, and as a result you have become ill, then you may be able to make an industrial disease claim for compensation.

Making a claim can involve having to build a detailed picture of your working history.

You may not always know when you first started suffering from your condition or injury, which makes investigating and gathering evidence highly important. And there are certain time limits involved, which we will explain later.

Sometimes the causes are traceable to earlier employers, some of whom might have gone out of business since.

However, that does not necessarily stop you making a claim providing we can trace their insurers.

Because industrial disease claims can be complex, it is always best to first seek professional legal advice. This is a specialised area of the law, requiring expertise and experience in industrial disease claims.

What kinds of compensation can I get?

If you make a claim for industrial disease compensation, the amount you can expect to receive depends on various factors:

  • Your pain and suffering
  • Current and future loss of earnings
  • Medical expenses
  • Travel expenses related to your illness, injury or condition
  • Care and support needs
  • Adaptations or modifications to your home
  • Mobility aids

The effects of an industrial disease can be long-term and life-changing. The kind of compensation you can get reflects as much.

You may, for example, need an extra level of care and support from professional services. Family members may also need support if they take on carer roles.

There are costs associated with getting your industrial disease treated, including for transportation and living.

Your home may need some form of modification to help with your mobility, or simply for using the things in it.

Then there is the question of any loss of earnings due to your inability to work, and what impact this will have on your future.

And you can get compensation for the pain and suffering your illness, injury or condition has caused you.

Usually, this compensation will come from your employer’s liability insurance.

This is something all UK businesses and organisations must have as soon as they become employers. Employers’ Liability Insurance must cover at least £5 million.

If, when making your claim, you are still employed at the same place, there are also legal safeguards in place to protect you from discrimination or unfair dismissal.

As experts in industrial disease claims, we will be able to give you an estimate of the compensation you could receive once we have looked carefully at the details of your circumstances.

Is my employer responsible?

This is a critical factor in making a successful industrial disease claim.

If an employer admits liability, then things will be more straightforward. However, it is often the case that as the claimant you must prove your industrial disease claim.

You must make your employer aware of what you are experiencing, or have experienced. They should then refer you to occupational health.

By telling your employer, you are also giving them the opportunity to make any changes or adjustments to your work because of your condition or illness.

Under the law, employers must do everything that is reasonable and practical to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

They should control any risks to injury or health in the workplace by carrying out risk assessments.

Based on this information, they should give employees the necessary information to help them protect themselves.

When it comes to your industrial disease claim and proving your employer’s responsibility, the question is whether your employer should have foreseen any risk and taken the appropriate precautions.

Your employer has a duty of care towards you, as we will explain.

What is my employer’s duty of care?

All employees and visitors to a place of work are responsible for looking after themselves, but the employer has a duty of care towards them.

Duty of care has a firm basis in law for establishing a employer’s responsibility for health and safety management.

This principle is used to establish fault when an employee has an industrial disease and makes a claim.

Duty of care refers to the requirement we highlighted in the previous section for employers to take all reasonable possible steps to ensure health, safety and wellbeing of employees and visitors in the workplace.

This is both a sound business practice and a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Because duty of care is a legal requirement, employers must comply with it by providing or doing certain things.

They must:

  • Take steps to reduce or eliminate workplace risks
  • Put appropriate training in place to explain these risks to employees and explain how to deal with them

There other workplace requirements employers should follow to ensure they are meeting their duty of care:

  • Define employees’ roles and tasks clearly
  • Provide appropriate training and feedback for employees
  • Make sure employees have ways they can raise concerns about health and safety
  • Protect employees from bullying, harassment and discrimination
  • Provide them with somewhere to rest and relax
  • Do not make them work excessive hours

If an employer does not do everything reasonably possible to keep their employees safe and healthy at work, they can be held responsible for breaching their duty of care.

That is the legal basis for industrial disease compensation claims.

If you suffer from an illness or condition that you believe to be a result of workplace conditions, then you must ask yourself whether your employer has complied with their duty of care to you.

Have they provided you with health and safety training, or specialised equipment such as protective clothing for your job?

Are they ensuring you are not working excessive hours, or have they dealt promptly with any grievances?

Does your employer protect you from discrimination and take allegations of misconduct seriously?

Your employer’s duty of care covers both your physical and mental wellbeing.

The Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 require employers to either display an official health and safety law poster, or give each of them a leaflet.

Why do industrial diseases occur?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, there have been industrial diseases caused by changing working conditions and occupations.

The workplace contains occupational hazards. These hazards vary depending on the nature of each employee’s job role and tasks, and the type of work environment.

Occupational hazards are risks associated with a particular occupation.

Some of these risks will be clearer than others, some are an expected part of a job while others will, to an extent, have been less obvious.

Many workplaces will generate dust, fumes and chemicals. For example, continuous process industries such as petrochemical, cement and glass processing.

The construction industry contains plenty of occupational hazards.

Other employee roles, such as working in a call centre, can have health consequences which may be less clear from the outset.

The employee has a duty of care to their employees to make them aware of these risks, and to train them in ways of avoiding, reducing or eliminating them.

Where these measures are proven to be inadequate, or non-existent, then employees can have grounds to claim for industrial disease compensation if they have a condition or illness as a result.

Prolonged exposure to noise can lead to conditions such as industrial deafness. HSE reports that around 20,000 UK workers suffer from some form of work-related hearing loss.

Continual use of vibrating machinery or carrying out repetitive tasks by hand can lead to work-related strain injuries, such as hand arm vibration syndrome and tendonitis.

Various hazardous substances pose long-term dangers to employee health, from asbestos to toxic chemicals.

Some employees may have an existing condition which is then made worse by workplace conditions or specific environments.

The questions to ask, should you think you are suffering from an industrial disease, are:

  • Were you made aware of the risks?
  • Were you given enough protection from them?

In the workplace, as in everyday life, accidents and illnesses can happen, but if the conditions you are working in have been damaging to your wellbeing – through no fault of your own – then you may be able to make an industrial disease claim.

How do I make an industrial disease claim?

If you decide to make a claim, you first have to make a statement to your solicitor.

To do this, it is important for you to provide your solicitor with the right amount of information, including:

  • Your medical diagnosis, symptoms of your condition or illness and how it affects you on a day to day basis
  • Details of your work history, and how you got your illness or condition

You might find it helpful to write things down, especially if how you got your illness goes back several years – even to a period working for a previous employer.

Where you have people you worked with, these names and details can be valuable in helping us gather the evidence we need to support your claim.

We will send a letter of claim to the employer that we believe is responsible for your illness. This officially informs them you have got this illness and that it has been caused by your employment under them.

Some industrial diseases take many years to show clear symptoms. This can be true of serious conditions such as asbestosis and other work-related lung diseases.

In these situations, even decades after your employment has ended, you can still claim for industrial disease, even if the employer has gone out of business.

You can also make a claim on behalf of a family member who has died from an industrial disease.

Employers’ Liability Insurance policies continue to be valid long after their businesses have ceased trading.

Therefore, to make a claim against a previous employer that has gone out of business, we trace their insurance policy.

In most cases, it is am insurer that pays the compensation for a successful claim.

We can also request your National Insurance Records for evidence to support your dates of employment, should your previous employer no longer have a record themselves.

Your medical records, plus an assessment from a medical expert chosen by your solicitor, will provide evidence of your illness. The evidence then provides the basis for a schedule of loss.

This document usually has two parts:

  • General damages – the amount of compensation you should expect to receive for your pain, suffering and loss of quality of life
  • Special damages – compensation to restore you to a position equivalent to before you suffered from your illness or condition.

Your solicitor then registers your claim with the court.

If the other side admits their responsibility, then your solicitor will apply for an interim payment before the case reaches a final settlement.

Sometimes the process of establishing liability takes time, with various arguments going between parties, until an agreement can be reached.

In some cases, there must be a liability hearing after which a judge will decide who is at fault.

Then negotiation and settlement follow.

Is there a time limit?

Normally, you must settle a claim in the UK within three years from the date that:

  • You first experienced symptoms of your illness or condition, or
  • You had reasonable grounds to believe your illness was caused by your workplace or someone’s negligence.

However symptoms can often develop over a long period of time, and it can be difficult to pinpoint when the symptoms became significant.

Therefore, a judge does have discretion to allow claims to proceed even if court proceedings were issued after the three-year time limit.

This demonstrates how complex industrial disease claims can be and why it is always vital to seek professional legal advice.

You can pursue your claim risk-free with No Win No Claim, because then you will only pay your solicitor’s fees if a claim is successful.

We have vast experience in dealing with tinnitus, noise-induced hearing loss, RSI, vibration white finger, osteoarthritis, occupational asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome claims, asbestos-related claims and many more associated cases. We always aim to deliver the maximum amount of compensation for your situation, in the shortest time frame, ensuring that the compensation paid out to you is enough to meet your needs not only now but in the future.

Mark Reynolds Solicitors is a leading law firm when it comes to industrial disease claims. We can work on a No Win No Fee basis to take the risk out of making a claim and work hard to ensure steps are taken to ensure you make a recovery and enjoy the best quality of life possible after your diagnosis. You are more than welcome to consult us at any point if you do have any questions about how our legal procedures work. We provide a bespoke service based on the specific and unique needs of our clients.

For more information about making an industrial disease claim, please call us on 0800 002 9577, or fill in our online contact form.