Repetitive movements, exposure to noise or exposure to harmful substances in industrial environments are typical causes of occupational diseases.
Employers have a legal duty to provide their employees with a safe and healthy working environment. This means preventing obvious causes of accidents, ensuring that you have sufficient warmth, light and ventilation to work in, and taking every reasonable precaution to protect you from ‘occupational diseases’. Should they fail in their duty of care to you, their employee, and you suffer as a consequence then you are likely to be able to claim compensation from them.
Accidents at work are relatively straightforward to deal with, as there is a specific incident that can clearly be linked to the damage caused to your health. This is partly why every personal injury solicitor or claims management company will be able to help you with a claim for an accident at work.
In comparison, many fewer companies have the expertise and experience to deal with claims for ‘occupational diseases’ as they are inherently complex, not least because it can take some time for their effects to be identified. Repetitive movements, exposure to noise or exposure to harmful substances in industrial environments are typical causes of occupational diseases.
Because of the length of time it can take for symptoms to emerge, the normal three year limit for bringing about a personal injury compensation claim starts from the date the victim became aware of their symptoms, as opposed to the date they contracted the occupational disease.
An additional complication caused by the length of time it takes for symptoms to emerge is that your employer at the time may go out of business. This does not mean you cannot bring about a claim, as long as your solicitor can locate the insurer that covered them during the period your illness is believed to have been caused.
TYPES OF OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE
There are literally dozens and dozens of different types of occupational disease. Some of the most common include:
• Industrial deafness caused by working in a very noisy environment – If you work in an environment where it is difficult to hear someone around 2m away then there could well be excessive levels of noise in your occupation
• Repetitive strain injury, a musculo-skeletal disorder (such as tenosynovitis, carpal tunnel, and tendinitis) caused by repetitive tasks such as typing, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression (pressing against hard surfaces), or sustained or awkward positions. • Occupational asthma: a lung disorder in which substances found in the workplace cause the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
• Dermatitis caused by being in constant contact with an irritating substance at work.
• Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome or Vibration white finger triggered by continuous use of vibrating hand-held machinery at work.
• Occupational stress, a type of psychiatric condition caused from exposure to too much stress in the workplace. Your employer has a duty to ensure you are not put under excessive stress at work.
Although dusty factories are usually what come to mind when discussing occupational diseases, earlier this year, two women commenced legal action against Virgin Atlantic Airways for more than £500,000, claiming that they developed repetitive strain injury after giving massages to overweight executives. Although they were employed as masseuses, they claimed that there were there were insufficient breaks between long therapy sessions, and that the main 'determinant' of work pressure was flight scheduling. In addition, the clients were fully clothed, whereas a shiatsu massage normally takes place directly against the skin – thereby forcing them to press even harder than normal.
VAA had previously paid £26,000 in an out-of-court settlement to another injured beauty therapist, Emily Rimmer, and more than £100,000 in 2005 to Elizabeth King, a former beauty therapist who also worked at the Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow Clubhouse lounge, was awarded £100,000 after developing RSI. The awards were partly based on loss of earnings as the women claimed their injuries put an end to their careers as beauty therapists.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU BELIEVE YOU SUFFER FROM OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE
If you believe you have an ailment caused by your working conditions, then the recommended actions are very similar to those if you were to have an accident at work:
1. Seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity
2. Report the your symptoms to your line manager
3. Report the your symptoms to your trade union representative, if you have one
4. Keep a detailed log of everything you believe is related to your condition – symptoms, how you believe they are related to your working conditions etc. Psychological symptoms including shock, sleepless nights, unusual mood variations should also be recorded.
5. Keep a detailed log including receipts of all expenses incurred in dealing with your condition – you may be able to claim these back in addition to compensation for the injury itself. This could include not just treatments costs but travel costs to and from the place of treatment, as well as loss of earnings if you are unable to work.
6. Instruct a legal professional to look at your case to see if you have a valid claim. As with other types of personal injury claim, if they believe you have a strong case, then it will be undertaken on a ‘no win no fee’ basis which effectively means you do not pay anything to make the claim.
As with accidents at work, your claim is dealt with and paid out by your employer’s insurers, not your employers themselves. This has the additional benefit that if your employer has since gone out of business (as occupational diseases can take a long time to become apparent), then you are still able to claim against their insurers at the time.
Also as with accidents at work, making a claim would not just benefit you directly, it will probably help to prevent the same from happening to others.
INDUSTRIAL INJURIES DISABLEMENT BENEFIT
You can claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (diseases) if you were employed in a job that caused your disease.
Your individual circumstances, including your age and the severity of your disability, will affect the level of benefit you may get. This will be assessed by a doctor on a scale of one to 100 per cent with payments ranging from £30.06 per week if you are under 18 with no dependents and are rated 20%, to £150.30 per week if you are over 18 and are rated 100%.
The scheme covers more than 70 diseases – go to this link www.direct.gov.uk.
Please note that if you get Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, this may affect other benefits you might receive that depend on how much money you have coming in.
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You should always seek advice from an appropriately qualified solicitor on any specific legal enquiry. For legal advice regarding your case, please contact Hamilton Brady for a Consultation with a Solicitor on 0844 873 608.