What are some common respiratory conditions for which people claim compensation?

Respiratory condition is a common industrial disease claim, due to the number of workers who in the past have been exposed to poorly ventilated environments or hazardous chemicals. Here at ASD we successfully represent many claims for:

  • asbestos-related conditions such as
  • forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) including
    • emphysema
    • chronic bronchitis
  • forms of pneumoconiosis, such as
  • occupational asthma

 

What can cause these lung or respiratory conditions?

Condition

Cause

Pleural plaques

Inhalation of asbestos particles

Diffuse pleural thickening

Inhalation of asbestos particles

Asbestosis

Inhalation of asbestos particles

Mesothelioma

Inhalation of asbestos particles

Emphysema

Long-term exposure to airborne irritants (such as manufacturing dusts or fumes)

Occupational asthma

Any asthmagenic agents present in the workplace, or existing asthma exacerbated by asthmagenic agents

Siderosis (welder’s lung)

Inhalation of iron particles

Silicosis

Inhalation of silica particles

Berylliosis

Beryllium (common in aerospace industries, beryllium mining, and the manufacturer of fluorescent light bulbs)

 

For more information on the respiratory conditions caused by the inhalation of asbestos, read our advice here:

 

What is an interstitial lung disease?

Interstitial lung disease is a group of more than 200 different lung diseases that typically affect the tissue of the airsacs (alveoli) in the lungs, and the space around them (the interstitium) – resulting in the alveoli becoming scarred and thickened. Examples of an interstitial lung disease include:

  • forms of pneumoconiosis, such as asbestosis
  • idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • sarcoidosis

Interstitial lung diseases are different from obstructive airway diseases, which usually involve the narrowing or contracting of the bronchi. An example of an obstructive airway disease would be asthma or chronic bronchitis.

 

What about exposure to fumes?

As well as airborne irritants like workplace dust particles, fumes can cause significant health problems as they enter the body via the respiratory system:

Chromium poisoning

Chromium is a metal that also comes in various compounds. It can release toxic fumes during a number of industrial workplace activities, such as chrome plating, paint and dye mixing (especially in the pottery/ceramics, silk and wool industries), and the welding of stainless steel products. Chromium poisoning can be a single acute episode after a high-dose intense exposure, or a low-level chronic cumulative toxicity that is built up over a long period.

Chromium poisoning can cause a number of health problems, including respiratory issues such as occupational asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung inflammation or obstruction, and lung cancer.

Your employer can be found negligent if they didn’t provide you with the necessary protective equipment/clothing while you were working with chromium.

 

Carbon monoxide

The silent killer, carbon monoxide fumes can come from any kind of defective household appliance, from faulty boilers and central heating systems, to cookers and fires, as well as from running vehicles or burning stoves in an unventilated area. Low-level exposure can bring on tension-like headaches as well as breathing difficulties, nausea, tiredness and confusions.  Acute carbon monoxide often results in brain damage or death.

You may be able to claim compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning if your employer (or even a private landlord for your home) is found negligent for not ensuring the proper servicing or installation of appliances, or for not providing adequate ventilation in an enclosed area.

 

How are lung diseases and respiratory conditions diagnosed?

Typically, symptoms of a respiratory condition will manifest first as a productive (ie, phlegmy), persistent cough. Diagnosis is typically by a spirometry test to measure lung function and/or a chest x-ray to detect any unusual occurrences in the chest area. If more detail is required, then a CT scan can be performed.

 

Can I die from a lung or respiratory condition?

Many respiratory conditions can be chronic yet non-fatal, although it is possible that many can later develop fatal complications, such as respiratory failure, or have a knock-on effect on other organs outside of the respiratory system (such as weakening the heart).

Conditions such as pleural plaques can be quite benign: present for many years without causing any health problems. Others may progressively or rapidly worsen, which may or may not cause fatal complications.

However, there are some industrial or occupational respiratory diseases that have a high death rate. These include:

 

What should my employer have done to protect me from developing these lung and respiratory diseases?

If you’ve developed a lung or respiratory condition as a result of exposure to a toxic agent in the workplace, it may have been because your employer didn’t provide you either with the correct protective safety equipment, or a properly-ventilated environment. In these cases, they may have been negligent and you might be able to pursue a claim against them, even if your lung disease developed many years after your employment with them.

 

How do I know that my respiratory condition was caused by my employment and was not something I would’ve developed anyway?

Claims for respiratory conditions can often be traced back to the inhalation of a particular dust or fume that is present in many industries – usually in mining or manufacturing. Claims are usually assessed on the ‘balance of probabilities’ – which means that there is a reasonable chance that the condition was caused by exposure to a particular substance. Whether or not it can be proven that the substance exposure was the fault of an employer, it is usually ‘more often than not’ the case.

 

Is the Government doing anything to reduce or prevent the incidence of respiratory conditions caused by employment?

Yes, there are a number of controls in place to protect workers. Most of these are handled by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the independent regulator for safety at work – which enforces legislation and also provides advice and guidance.

As mentioned above, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) deals with substances that can cause serious injuries, many of which can be respiratory in nature since they are sometimes inhaled as dust, fumes, vapours or gases. Employers can conduct COSHH assessments.

HSE has also produced guidance concerning respiratory diseases here, which includes details on priority workers at greater risk, and guidance on respiratory protective equipment.

There are also specific regulations for asbestos, lead and radioactive substances, including radon gas, which can also cause respiratory conditions and other serious health problems.

 

Which lung and respiratory conditions have to be reported to the HSE?

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) is the duty placed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on employers to report certain occurrences, such as occupational diseases, workplace accidents and specified ‘near misses’.

Not all health issues need to be reported to the HSE under RIDDOR. The conditions relating to respiratory and lung conditions that are reportable to the HSE under RIDDOR are:

  • specified injuries to workers, including:
    • serious burns that damage the respiratory system
    • any other injury that arises from working in an enclosed space, including
  • the diagnosis of occupational illnesses or diseases, such as:
    • occupational asthma (where the person’s work involves significant or regular exposure to a known respiratory sensitiser)
    • any occupational cancer (such as mesothelioma) for which the work increases the chance of developing that cancer
    • any disease attributed to an occupational exposure to a biological agent (guidance for substances that are hazardous to health, including dusts, vapours, fumes, gases and chemicals, is covered by COSHH)
  • dangerous occurrences (specific near-miss incidents) involving the accidental release or escape of dangerous substances, including flammable liquids and gasses, and hazardous materials such as asbestos
  • gas incidents, where someone has died, lost consciousness or been hospitalised in connection with that gas

There are separate regulations for reporting dangerous occurrences in workplaces such as mines, quarries and offshore sites.

 

What next?

If you’ve developed a lung or respiratory condition which you think was caused by your employment, or you’ve been exposed to hazardous substances at work, then give us a call on 0114 267 8780 or 0800 163 622, or email us and we’ll help you to get started on your compensation claim.