Head of Roberts Jackson’s COSHH Department, Annabel Chadwick, gives advice and insight into Occupational Asthma & Dermatitis
Occupational Asthma and Occupational Dermatitis are forms of industrial disease that are usually caused by a breach of what is known as The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). COSHH is, in a nutshell, how your employer approaches the safe and acceptable practice of any substances that can be consider hazardous to employees either by coming in to direct contact with them or breathing in fumes caused by the substances.
Roberts Jackson provides legal support and advice for workers who may have been affected by a breach in COSHH Regulations leading to breathing or skin conditions. This week the Head of our COSHH Department, Annabel Chadwick, took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss this tricky area of law and what employee’s and their employers should be aware of when it comes to hazardous substances at work.
We asked Annabel some questions that arise when making claims for asthma and dermatitis and detailed the responses below:
Firstly we asked, in what occupations are you most likely to come in to contact with hazardous substances and why is the risk usually so high?
The COSHH team run many cases for people who work in the cleaning, nursing and catering industries and this is usually because the link from the use of the irritant to the onset of symptoms is more obvious. For example, if a cleaner is wiping down surfaces using a cloth and cleaning solution then develop a skin condition on their hands they are more likely to put two and two together.
The most difficult thing can be speaking to people from the construction and hairdressing industries. The risk of asthma and dermatitis is very high for these employees however the link between work and their symptoms may be less obvious. Also, some may be self-employed so we can’t help them unfortunately.
What substances do you find cause the most problems for our clients and the various people you speak to?
With cleaners you will normally see exposure to bleaches, polish, floor and surface cleaners as well as detergents that cause skin and/or respiratory conditions to develop. Catering can be similar as employees are expected to keep work spaces clean for food preparation however it is not uncommon to see cases involving specific foods and additives themselves.
Nursing and healthcare work is slightly different as we see the majority of problems arising from overuse of hand gels, soaps and water to keep hands clean and sterile as well as the overuse of gloves which can irritate the skin, causing dermatitis. Various gloves can also cause allergic contact dermatitis in some people.
In October 2013 there were some changes to the law surrounding COSHH cases which means that the approach to these claims has altered slightly. We asked Annabel how that has affected the cases we run in the COSHH department:
Before October 2013 employers were subject to something called strict liability. What this meant was that there did not need to be any foreseeability of an injury in order to show that the employer had breached their duty of care owed to employees. However, following new legislation, if a condition was caused or made worse after October 2013, then an employee must show that the skin or respiratory symptoms suffered were a foreseeable risk arising out of their employment and that the employer did not adequately protect them against these risks. We do not believe that this will impact our client’s cases too greatly but it is something that we, and our clients, need to be mindful of when approaching COSHH claims.
Finally we asked, what would you advise anyone who is suffering from a condition they believe has been brought on by breach of the COSHH regulations?
If you are still employed at the work place, let your employer know about your condition straight away so that they are on notice and can correct the issues causing the problem. Secondly, I would always make sure you visit your GP and inform them of what substances you are using at work so that they can provide the relevant medical care.
Staying on top of any treatment or medication as well as limiting exposure is very important in ensuring your symptoms improve.
To speak to Annabel or someone in her expert COSHH team you can call Roberts Jackson Solicitors Mon – Fri 9am-5pm. Alternatively, you can leave us a message or request a call back on our website at any time and we will get back to you within 24 hours.