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The hidden danger lurking on building sites

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Personal injury claims arising from working on building or demolition sites are common place. Often they are as a result of traumatic injury – falls, crush injuries, slips and trips.

However, there is a danger for construction workers that is usually associated with working on farms, or sometimes, in warehouses.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance on controlling exposure to leptospirosis, also known as Weil's disease, on building and demolition sites.

What is leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is one of a number of micro-organisms that construction workers can be exposed to. It is carried by some animals, including rats, and passed to humans through the animals' urine. It is rare in the UK. It can enter the body through the eyes, mouth, or cuts and grazes. Construction workers can come into contact with infected animals' urine by handling materials on the site on which the animals have been urinating, or contaminated fresh water on site. Demolition and renovation sites can carry more risk where there is evidence of rat infestation. Other areas of risk can include work linked to sewers and canals.

What are the symptoms of leptospirosis?

Initial symptoms can include a high temperature, feeling hot and shivery, headache, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhoea, aching muscles and joints, red eyes, loss of appetite.

More serious symptoms can include yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), rash, being unable to urinate, swollen ankles, feet or hands, chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood. In some cases, hospitalisation may be needed.

Severe cases can lead to meningitis, kidney failure and other serious conditions. In rare cases the disease can be fatal.

Reducing exposure to leptospirosis on building sites

Employers have a duty to control their employees' exposure to micro-organisms such as Leptospirosis under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended).

Measures employers can take include carrying out risk assessments where there is a known rat infestation. They should also take preventative measures to reduce employees' exposure. These can include:

  • Providing and encouraging the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Encouraging a good system of hygiene, including hand washing, and providing the facilities for this
  • Cleaning and covering cuts and grazes.

While exposure to leptospirosis is rare in the UK, if you think you may have been exposed to it at work and adequate measures were not in place to reduce or control exposure our experienced personal injury team can advise you about making a claim. Call us on 0161 696 6235.

By Angeline Holmes, paralegal in the personal injury department