The dangers posed by airborne allergens in the workplace can be serious. Asthma and other respiratory conditions are commonly suffered by those who handle substances such as flour and wood. Dust particles from these substances are inhaled into the respiratory tract causing irritation, which can result in ongoing illnesses. These are known as occupational respiratory diseases and they can have life changing consequences.
Chris Grayling, the Government’s Employment Minister, said that according to figures from the Surveillance of World Related Occupational Respiratory Disease scheme, between 2007 and 2009 an estimated 18 cases of occupational asthma were reported by "bakers and flour confectioners" and that "Statistics for the occupational group reflect the role of flour dust as a cause of occupational asthma."
Employers liable if allergen risks not controlled
Employers in industry sectors where risks like these are prevalent are under a strict obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workforce by providing adequate ventilation and protective clothing as well as making sure staff are fully trained in the handling of substances that can be harmful to health. If an employer fails in this duty, they could be prosecuted and fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and if it is proved that workers have suffered ill health because of their failure, they could face a compensation claim.
In Southampton, a decking company was prosecuted by the HSE because it failed to properly control the risks posed to workers who were exposed to wood dust and adhesives at its manufacturing plant. The substances were known to cause severe allergic reactions and ill health and one employee was taken to hospital suffering from anaphylactic shock. His severe breathing difficulties arose after he used an adhesive and was exposed to wood dust whilst carrying out his duties.
Dennis MacWilliam, the HSE Inspector investigating said: "In this case, a lack of understanding regarding the hazards associated with adhesives and wood dust, plus a clear failure to control exposure meant Millbrook Industries failed in it duty to its employees. Staff had access to overalls, gloves and masks on site, but unbelievably there was no training, guidance or rules provided regarding their use.”
Occupational respiratory diseases can seriously impact on everyday life
Occupational asthma and other respiratory diseases can impact on everyday life in a significant way. Leisure and sporting activities can be seriously affected and it may even be the case that the sufferer can no longer take part in the pastimes they previously enjoyed. The condition may also impact on the ability to work and in some cases even normal everyday tasks can become difficult, such as walking up the stairs or taking the children to the park.
Where an employer’s negligence is responsible for an occupational respiratory disease, a claim for compensation can be made. The way the illness has impacted on the sufferer’s life, any ongoing care or treatment needed and their financial losses will all be taken into consideration so that an adequate award can be pursued.
At Stephensons we have personal injury claims lawyers with specific experience in pursuing compensation awards on behalf of employees who have developed occupational asthma and other work related respiratory diseases. If you feel you may have a claim, call us in complete confidence for professional advice on 01616 966 229.