Asthma is a chronic condition that causes your airways to narrow, making breathing difficult, triggering coughing, and affecting your daily activities. It has several causes, such as air pollutants and irritants, respiratory infections, certain medications and airborne allergens like dust or mould.
Every employer has a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to protect the health and well-being of employees. If your asthma symptoms developed due to exposure to hazardous chemicals or materials in the workplace, you might be entitled to make an occupational asthma claim.
The compensation award for workplace asthma covers pain, suffering, and any related financial losses and expenses. If your claim has merit, your solicitor will likely offer you a no win no fee service, which means that you can pursue damages without paying upfront fees or taking any financial risks.
Can I make an occupational asthma claim?
If you developed asthma at work, this might be due to your employer’s negligence. After speaking to a personal injury lawyer, they will be able to let you know whether you may be eligible for occupational asthma compensation. As a general rule, a claim should be possible if:
- Your employer owed you a duty of care
- They breached their duty by acting negligently
- You developed work-induced asthma, or your condition worsened as a result
- This caused you substantial personal and financial damages
- Your illness was diagnosed within the last three years
Some signs and indications that you developed asthma at work include:
- Your symptoms flare up at work;
- Your asthma gets worse during the working week;
- Your symptoms improve if you are away from work;
- Your workplace involves exposure to substances and materials associated with the onset of asthma, such as dust, flour or solvent vapours.
If your solicitor believes you have valid grounds to pursue compensation, you will need compelling evidence to support an occupational asthma claim, such as:
- A medical report confirming your occupational asthma diagnosis
- Medical evidence of test results, symptoms and treatments you received
- Your work history and training records
- Occupational health reports
- Statements from co-workers regarding your working conditions
- Evidence of the impact your illness had on your life, such as statements from friends or family and your own notes
- Proof of lost earnings and other expenses
After preparing your claim for workplace asthma, your solicitor will contact your employer and inform them of your intentions to take legal action. If they admit liability, you may begin to negotiate your occupational asthma compensation. Otherwise, you may have to take your claim to court. However, over 95% of personal injury claims are settled out of court.
What is occupational asthma?
Asthma is a term used to describe a chronic respiratory condition that causes the airways to narrow, swell and sometimes produce extra mucus. For some people, this is just a minor nuisance, while for others, it can cause breathing difficulties, interfere with daily activities and lead to life-threatening asthma attacks.
Occupational asthma is usually triggered by dust, isocyanates, flour and other hazardous substances in the workplace. Broadly speaking, there are two forms of occupational asthma:
- Allergic occupational asthma accounts for the majority of cases and usually involves a latency period between an airborne allergen and the onset of symptoms.
- Irritant-induced occupational asthma typically occurs within several hours of exposure to high levels of irritant gas, vapour or fume in the workplace.
The diagnosis of work-induced asthma is not always straightforward, as symptoms are similar to a range of other lung diseases. Your doctor will give you a physical exam and try to identify what substances in your workplace might have triggered your illness. They may also order a series of tests to measure lung function, such as:
- Spirometry is used to estimate the narrowing of your bronchial tubes by measuring how much air you can exhale after a deep breath and how fast you can do this.
- Peak flow measurement uses a simple device to measure how fast you can exhale air to determine how well your lungs are working and whether your asthma is getting worse.
- A nitric oxide test measures the amount of nitric oxide in your breath, and a high value might be a sign of asthma.
- Allergy testing can be performed by a skin or blood test; if any allergy triggers are identified, your doctor may recommend allergy shots.
- The challenge test exposes the patient to an aerosol containing a small concentration of an asthma trigger. Your lungs will be tested before and after the inhalation to determine whether the aerosol affected your normal breathing.
If your work induced asthma is due to your employer’s negligence, you might be entitled to make an occupational asthma claim. To find out if your case has merit, you can enter your details into our online claim form to receive a call back from an experienced legal adviser. Alternatively, please call 0800 678 1410 to speak to an adviser now.
What are the symptoms of occupational asthma?
Asthma is a common lung condition that causes breathing difficulties and might interfere with work and day-to-day activities. The symptoms of workplace asthma are broadly the same as any other kind of asthma and include:
- Shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
- Pain and chest tightness
- Regular coughing or wheezing
- Blocked, runny or itchy nose
- Itchy, red, inflamed, or watery eyes
Asthma symptoms can gradually or suddenly get worse and cause an asthma attack. Asthma attacks kill around three people in the UK each day, and every ten seconds, someone has a potentially life-threatening attack. Signs and symptoms include:
- Your symptoms, such as coughing or tight chest, are getting suddenly worse
- Your inhaler is not helping
- You are too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
- Rapid breathing and the feeling that you cannot catch your breath
Besides exposure to occupational triggers, several other factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma symptoms, including:
- Having a family history of asthma
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker or exposed to second-hand smoke
- Having other allergic conditions, such as dermatitis or hay fever
Based on the severity of your symptoms, asthma classifies into four general categories that will influence how much occupational asthma compensation you might be entitled to:
- Mild intermittent – The symptoms are mild, and they come and go around two days a week and may cause you to wake up at night two or three times a month
- Mild persistent – Similar mild symptoms that appear more frequently, but not on a daily basis and no more than once in a single day
- Moderate persistent – If you experience daily symptoms and these cause you to wake up during the night at least once per week
- Severe persistent – Causes symptoms throughout the day on most days and regular waking at night
There is no cure for asthma, but there are treatments available to help keep the symptoms under control, such as:
- Long-term asthma control medications include inhaled corticosteroids and theophylline, a drug that relaxes the muscles around the airways.
- Quick-relief medications are used during an asthma attack and include short-acting beta-agonists, anticholinergic agents and intravenous corticosteroids.
What causes occupational asthma?
Occupational asthma is a work-related condition in which exposure to certain airborne particles and hazardous substances causes the airways to enter into a hypersensitive state. Many agents can cause work induced asthma, of which the most common are:
Exposure to isocyanates is recognised as a leading cause of chemical-induced occupational asthma, and the prevalence among workers exposed to them has been estimated at around 5%-15%. They are a family of highly reactive chemicals that bind to human proteins and cause asthma and other health problems.
Isocyanates are widely used in the manufacture of paints and varnishes, flexible and rigid foams, fibres and elastomers. Individuals working in the automobile industry and auto body repair shops have some of the highest rates of asthma at work.
Flour and cereal dust
Flour dust is a hazardous substance and a respiratory sensitiser known to cause occupational asthma among bakers and millers. Grain-induced asthma is a frequent illness that mainly affects professions such as bakers, confectioners, pastry factory workers, farmers and cereal handlers.
The major allergens are proteins derived from wheat, rye and barley flour, although some baking additives also play an important role. If your employer failed to take reasonable measures to minimise your exposure, you might be able to make an occupational asthma claim.
The Health and Safety Executive has published a comprehensive list of substances and materials which can contribute to the occurrence of asthma at work. These include:
- The latex used in healthcare settings
- Animal hair, fur, skin and saliva
- Dust, including sandblasting or wood dust
- Welding fumes
- Solvent vapours
- Cleaning fluids
- Mists, fumes and moulds in domestic and commercial buildings
- Adhesives used in manufacturing
- Chlorine from indoor pools
- Hair products and bleaches used in hairdressing saloons
If you believe you have developed asthma at work or your health has worsened due to your working conditions, you may be able to claim occupational asthma compensation. To find out if you can take legal action, enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a solicitor.
Which occupations are most at risk of suffering asthma at work?
You could develop occupational asthma while working in a wide range of industries, but some workplaces put employees at a higher risk. In the UK, the number of workplace asthma cases declined from 230 in 2005 to 35 in 2018, with an overall occupational incidence of 0.53 cases per 100,000 workers per year.
Employers have a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to protect employees from airborne irritants, allergens, dust and other hazardous substances. Any breach of these duties could make them liable to pay you compensation if you develop asthma at work.
Based on data for 2010-2019, the highest rates of work induced asthma were seen in the following occupations:
- Vehicle paint technicians: 42.4 per 100,000
- Bakers and flour confectioners: 35.5 per 100,000
- Manufacturing of food products: 10.1 per 100,000
- Manufacturing of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers: 6.1 per 100,000
- Manufacturing of chemicals and chemical products: 4.1 per 100,000
- Manufacturing of basic metals: 4.0 per 100,000
- Process, plant and machine operatives: 2.1 per 100,000
- Skilled trades occupations: 1.8 per 100,000
Occupational asthma claims are also more common in the following professions:
- Construction and demolition
- Treatment and process operations
- Coal mining
- The health and beauty industry
- Industrial cleaning
The thought of bringing a claim for workplace asthma against your employer might seem daunting, and you might worry about losing your job if you take legal action. If you decide to claim, rest assured that your employer will not be left out of pocket, and it would also be illegal for them to sack you.
According to the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, they are required by law to have insurance against liability for injury to their employees, and your compensation will be awarded by their insurance company.
Furthermore, according to unfair and constructive dismissal laws, you can take further legal action if:
- Your employer sacks you due to your occupational asthma claim
- You feel that you must leave your job against your will because of your employer’s conduct
Is my employer liable for my work induced asthma?
In the United Kingdom, your employer has a legal duty to protect you and your co-workers from the risk of developing asthma at work. Occupational asthma is a preventable condition, and several pieces of legislation detail your employer’s responsibilities to keep you safe at work, including:
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states that employers have a legal duty to protect the health and well-being of employees by:
- Carrying out regular risk assessments in the workplace
- Implement adequate risk control measures
- Provide information about safety policies
- Provide health and safety training and supervision
- When necessary, make sure employers have access to free and suitable personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Practice good housekeeping
- Ensure a safe working environment
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) sets out more specific duties that employers must follow to manage exposure to dangerous substances that may cause workplace asthma:
- Minimise the emission, release and spread of hazardous substances that may cause asthma
- Provide adequate ventilation in the workplace
- Ensure that employees can take regular breaks away from dangerous substances
- Supply respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when working with more hazardous substances
- Make sure adequate air filtration systems are installed and properly maintained
- Ensure employees understand the risks they are exposed to and what this means for them
- Continually review the risks and update health and safety procedures as required
- Place clear hazard warning signs and instructions and what to do in case of accidental exposure
If your employer has failed to take all reasonable measures dictated by the legislation to protect you from work induced asthma, this may amount to negligence. To find out whether you are eligible for occupational asthma compensation, enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.
How much compensation could I claim for occupational asthma?
The compensation award for work induced asthma is calculated on a case-by-case basis. Your solicitor will consider a number of factors to work out your occupational asthma compensation, such as:
- The severity of your condition
- Your physical pain and suffering, such as breathlessness
- The mental and psychological distress caused by work induced asthma
- Loss of amenities such as the ability to pursue a hobby
- Reduced quality of life
- The cost of medical treatments and rehabilitation
- Lost wages and loss of future earnings
- The cost of re-training if you cannot continue to practice your profession
- Cost of long-term care and medical aids
- Travel and accommodation expenses
The Judicial College, which is part of the Ministry of Justice, sets out guidelines when it comes to calculating compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. Courts and solicitors use these guidelines when working out how much you could receive for your work induced asthma. Below are some examples of the recommended amounts you could receive for general damages:
- Up to £5,150 for mild asthma and chest problems that resolve within a few months
- £10,644 to £19,200 for relatively mild asthma symptoms caused by exposure to harmful, irritating substances or vapours
- £18,020 to £24,680 for long-term bronchitis and wheezing that affect work and social life but may resolve within a few years of the exposure
- £26,290 to £43,010 for chronic asthma with breathing difficulties, restriction of employment prospects and the occasional need for an inhaler
- £40,410 to £61,710 for permanent asthma with severe and debilitating symptoms such as prolonged and regular coughing, sleep disturbances, and impairment of physical activity
Once your solicitor has gathered all the details about your occupational asthma claim, they will be able to offer a more accurate estimate of your compensation prospects. For more information, you can speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 or requesting a call back.
How long do I have to claim occupational asthma compensation?
Workplace asthma can be due to accidental exposure to chemicals in your environment or may develop over time due to air pollutants and allergens. According to your circumstances, the time limit to start an occupational asthma claim is usually three years from either:
- The date of the accident that caused your symptoms
- The date you received a medical diagnosis, also known as the date of knowledge
As a general rule, if you do not take legal action within the claim limitation date, your case becomes statute-barred. This means that the court may no longer accept your claim for asthma at work, even if it has merit. An extension may be allowed in certain situations, depending on the length and reason for your delay.
There are a few exceptions to the three-year time limit to claim occupational asthma compensation:
- If you started work at 16, a parent or another litigation friend could make a claim for asthma at work on your behalf. Once you turn 18, you will have another three years, up until your 21st birthday, to start legal proceedings yourself.
- There is no time limit to claim for someone who lacks the mental ability to handle their case for a reason such as a mental health disorder or intellectual disability.
- If you developed asthma while working abroad, you might still be entitled to compensation. However, the time limit to start a claim can differ considerably from country to county and may be shorter than three years, so you should seek legal advice as early as possible.
Even if you feel you may have plenty of time to start your occupational asthma claim, you should always contact a professional solicitor sooner rather than later. This will give them plenty of time to investigate your case and gather evidence to build a strong case.
Can workplace asthma claims be made using no win no fee?
Before accepting your claim for work induced asthma, your solicitor will investigate the circumstances of your illness and how this affected your life. If your case has merit, they will likely offer you a no win no fee agreement, which means that it will not cost you a single penny to take legal action.
The no win no fee service is made possible by two main arrangements:
A conditional fee agreement between you and your solicitor protects you against the financial risk of hiring a solicitor in case your occupational asthma claim fails and states that:
- You do not have to pay any upfront fees to your solicitor;
- They will offer you help and advice throughout the claims process and handle the legal aspects of the case so you can focus on your health and family;
- If your solicitor does not win compensation for your workplace asthma, you do not have to pay for their work and services;
- If your solicitor wins your claim, you will pay them a success fee of up to 25% of your compensation award for general damages and past financial losses.
The After the Event (ATE) insurance policy is a legal expenses insurance that your solicitor will take out on your behalf before starting legal proceedings. This is an essential part of a no win no fee agreement and covers all the legal expenses and disbursements incurred during claiming if your case is unsuccessful, such as:
- The other side’s solicitor fees
- Costs of printing and copying
- Expert witness fees
- Any fees requested by the court
- Barrister fees if your case goes to trial
- Travel and accommodation expenses
You only have to pay for the cost of the ATE insurance policy if you win occupational asthma compensation. The policy is self-insuring, and if your case fails, you will not incur any out-of-pocket expenses.
To find out if you qualify for a no win no fee occupational asthma claim, call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser. Alternatively, you can enter your details into our online claim form to receive a call back.