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Report Highlights Costly Impact Of Occupational Asthma

New Research Published In Journal


Companies across the UK need to do everything in their power to protect employees from occupational asthma, a leading workplace illness lawyer has demanded.

David Johnston-Keay of Irwin Mitchell made the call following the release of new research in the journal Thorax, which has suggested that the financial impact of asthma brought on by working conditions in the UK could be up to £135 million a year.

The team behind the research, which included specialists from the University of Birmingham, measured the costs by considering both the impact on NHS and benefit systems, as well as lost income and productivity.

It was also found that around 3,000 new cases of occupational asthma are diagnosed in the UK annually, which supports previous estimates given by The Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Discussing the findings, David Johnston-Keay, who specialises in cases of injury and illness at work, said: “These statistics clearly suggest that firms are failing to do enough to protect staff carrying out work known to carry the risk of causing or exacerbating asthma.

“We deal with a number of cases where serious medical conditions develop in the workplace and often it is found that measures are available which could have prevented the problem in the first place.

“The health and safety of workers is a top priority which employers simply cannot afford to ignore, as this research goes some way to highlighting.”

David recently represented a client who agreed a five-figure settlement with his former employer after suffering an exacerbation of his asthma.

Though he suffered asthma as a child, that asthma was well controlled.  It was not until beginning work with metalworking fluids in an engineering works as a grinder that his asthma deteriorated and he came to rely on inhalers.  Ultimately, he had to give up his job.  Now working away from those metalworking fluids, the client is recovering.

“The HSE have been advising employers about the need to ensure metal working fluids are properly maintained for many years,” says David Johnston-Keay. “Asthma is preventable and the compensation the client received goes some way to recompense him for his lost job and for the breathlessness and discomfort he suffered over a number of years.”

This is not an isolated case.  David also represents a former machine operator in his 50s who worked at another Sheffield based engineering firm.  That case is still ongoing.  He also suffers with asthma, which his respiratory consultant says was caused as a result of his exposure to metal working fluids used on the centreless grinders he operated at work.

“This client had no previous history of asthma,” says David Johnston-Keay.  “Previously a regular gym member, the client now struggles to walk any reasonable distance without getting out of breath.
“He is unlikely to work again and now receives Disability Living Allowance due to the severity of his breathing difficulties.  No amount of compensation will give the client his health back, but it is hoped that should his claim succeed, any award will go some way to help with the financial impact he suffers as a result of losing his job.”

The respiratory effects of exposure to poorly maintained metal working fluids have been known for a number of years, as have the risks to health from wood dust, paints and flour, yet some employers still fail to heed the warnings.
Guidance is freely available on the HSE website and there are very simple steps employers can to take to ensure compliance, such as workplace monitoring, the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment, proper training and warning employees to report symptoms early.