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The Dangers of Occupational Asthma (3 February 2017)

Date: 03/02/2017
Duncan Lewis, Personal Injury Solicitors, The Dangers of Occupational Asthma

Occupational asthma could be caused by inhaling certain substances in the course of your work.

What can go wrong?

The most common substances that you may encounter are resin in solder fumes for those who carry out regular soldering work, and latex foam or isocyanate foam manufacture such as in the making of props visual effects etc.
There are many substances that can cause occupational asthma but usually this would only be a problem where chemical substances or dusts are being released into the air and inhaled repeatedly over a period of time.

Legal requirements

Exposure to substances that could cause occupational asthma are covered by the Control of substances hazardous to health (“COSHH”) regulations.
Your employer should undertake a risk assessment of the work, and where appropriate personal protective equipment may be required.

Control measures

Check the risk phrases of those substances you are using. Those marked R42 have the potential to cause occupational asthma.

The risk of work with substances that could cause occupational asthma should be assessed, and control measures put in place to minimise exposure. In some circumstances this could be by using local exhaust ventilation.
It is your duty to ensure you are familiar with the control measures in place to protect you and that you use them correctly.

Health Surveillance is a regular enquiry into symptoms or regular testing such as lung function tests that can detect the signs of occupational asthma before serious symptoms develop.

Ask your manager about health surveillance if you are regularly exposed to substances that could cause occupational asthma. This may result in an Occupational Health Referral.

Talk to your manager at the earliest opportunity if you are experiencing health problems which you believe are related to the work you are doing, especially wheezing or an irritating night time cough and ask to be referred to Occupational Health.
Check whether health surveillance (regular checks on respiratory symptoms or lung function testing is required).

Case law

In the case of Goodenough v Dunlop Ltd [1996], the claimant suffered asthma during the course of his employment with the defendants between 1963 to 1966 and 1968 to 1988, as a result of inhalation of toluene di-isocyanate fumes.
The judge found that 80 per cent of the claimant’s asthma was occupational with 20 per cent being due to constitutional factors.

The claimant’s asthma put him at risk of an ongoing daily disability and asthma attacks which could be life threatening. His life expectancy was reduced by approximately five years. The claimant was woken in the night by coughing and wheezing and took a high level of medication. He was capable of employment but would have to avoid jobs exposing him to dust, fumes or extremes of temperature, moderate physical exertion and work outside in poor weather conditions. Likely variation in his condition might in itself cause absence from work and increase his disability on the labour market.

The claimant had a good work record although he had been made redundant by the defendant, he had subsequently gained employment. Loss of wages was awarded in full for the period of unemployment the claimant had experienced after being made redundant. The claimant was significantly handicapped by his illness and the employment that he was able to do was limited, and he was awarded £25,000 for this (known as a Smith and Manchester award) and £15,000 for Pain, Suffering and Loss of Amenities (known as PSLA).

The sums awarded in 1996 need to be measured to take inflation into account.

Petia Georgivia a Trainee Solicitor in the Public Law Department at Duncan Lewis. She assists across a broad range of areas such as unlawful detention, removals to European countries under the Dublin Conventions, removals on asylum and human rights grounds, challenges to policy / law relating to vulnerable people including victims of torture and various other challenges to decisions made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. She has worked on a variety of cases that have been decided in the Administrative Court, and the Court of Appeal.

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