Silicosis is a rare long-term disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust found in sand, rock and mineral ores. Over time, the silica builds up in the lungs and airways, causing inflammation and scarred tissue.
Silicosis causes persistent cough, shortness of breath, weakness and tiredness and can ultimately be fatal if the lungs stop working adequately. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the condition, but certain treatments are available to alleviate symptoms.
Some industries, such as construction, mining, demolition and paving, have an increased risk of silicosis. Employers have a duty of care to take all reasonable measures to protect employees against silica dust. If your employer neglected their responsibilities, you might be able to make a silicosis claim.
Can I make a silicosis claim?
If you were diagnosed with silicosis, it might be due to your employer’s negligence. A free consultation with a legal adviser is the easiest way to find out if you can make a silicosis compensation claim against them. The legal adviser will evaluate the merits of your case and give you advice on whether or not your claim is valid.
As a general rule, you should be eligible to make a silicosis claim if you have valid proof that:
- Your employer breached their duty of care towards you by acting negligently
- You were exposed to silica dust as a result
- This caused you to develop silicosis
If your case is valid, your solicitor will arrange a free consultation with a medical professional to help establish a connection between your condition and possible exposure in your work environment.
If you have been diagnosed with the condition, you could claim silicosis compensation in one of the following ways:
- Claim an industrial injuries disablement benefit, which entitles you to receive a weekly payment if you are exposed to silica in your working environment unless you are self-employed.
- Launch a civil silicosis claim in the UK court with the help of a professional solicitor.
- Claim a lump sum payment under the Workers Compensation Act 1979 if you have silicosis or are the dependant of someone who has died from the condition.
Most civil claims for silicosis compensation are funded with a no win no fee agreement. If your solicitor believes you have a fair chance to receive compensation for your condition, they will not ask for any upfront fees. Instead, you receive free support and advice throughout the claims process and do not have to pay your solicitor at all if your claim fails.
The no win no fee agreement also protects you from paying any legal costs and expenses incurred during the litigation. At the beginning of your claim, your solicitor will take out an After the Event insurance policy on your behalf, which provides full financial coverage if your claim is unsuccessful. This ensures you will never be left out of pocket whether you win or lose.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a respiratory disease that affects people that have inhaled a large quantity of silica dust, typically over a long period of time. The mineral silica is a fine dust released in the air when certain types of stone, clay, rock and sand are cut, broken, drilled or crushed.
Once inside the lungs, the silica dust causes inflammation that irreversibly damages the lung tissue. The affected structures have a role in oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, which is why the scarring caused by silicosis leads to breathing difficulties.
In the United Kingdom, there have been an average of 12 deaths per year from silicosis over the last ten years and around 30 estimated new cases each year. There are no specific tests for the condition, so it may take multiple visits and tests to get a diagnosis, such as:
- A chest X-ray or CT scan to check your lungs for scars and assess how much damage has been done;
- Lung function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out in one forced breath to measure your lungs’ capacity;
- Sputum test to help evaluate other lung diseases, such as tuberculosis;
- A bronchoscopy, which involves passing a small tube with an attached video camera into your windpipe and lungs to check for damage;
- A surgical biopsy can be used to get a sample of lung tissue for further testing.
Your doctor will also take into account your smoking history, work history, medical history, hobbies and any other activities that could have exposed you to silica dust.
There are three main types of silicosis that could lead to a silicosis compensation claim:
- Acute silicosis is a rare form of the disease caused by brief exposure to very large amounts of silica. Symptoms can appear within a few weeks and may be very severe, including chest pain and breathing difficulties.
- Chronic silicosis is the most common type, where symptoms usually appear decades after exposure to low or moderate amounts of silica. These are usually mild at first and gradually worsen and cause shortness of breath and a dry cough.
- Accelerated silicosis is seen in workers exposed to larger quantities of silica over a shorter duration, usually 5 to 15 years. The symptoms appear much earlier and are typically much worse than those of chronic silicosis.
If you have been diagnosed with any type of silicosis, you might be entitled to silicosis compensation. To find out if you have valid grounds to take legal action, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.
What are the symptoms of silicosis?
Usually, silicosis progresses slowly, and symptoms take years or even decades to develop. The early symptoms are mild and often overlooked, which makes the condition often challenging to diagnose. In most cases, the symptoms are advanced, and the lung damage is irreversible by the time you are diagnosed.
Early symptoms of the disease include a nagging cough, phlegm and trouble breathing. If the condition continues to worsen, the symptoms may become more severe and include:
- Respiratory problems
- Breathlessness that gets worse after physical exertion
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Prolonged fever that comes on suddenly
- Persistent coughing
- Blue lips and darkening of the skin
- Swollen legs
- Rapid breathing that may sound like wheezing
As the condition progresses, simple activities like walking can become very difficult, and the victim may be largely confined to their house. In rare cases, silicosis can also increase the risk of developing other severe illnesses, such as:
- Tuberculosis and other chest infections
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Lung cancer
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Chronic bronchitis
There is no cure for silicosis, but there are some things you can do to relieve symptoms and help you manage the disease, including:
- Medications such as inhaled steroids and bronchodilators are used to relax your airways
- Oxygen therapy helps you get more air into your lungs and reduce fatigue
- Lung transplant surgery, in very severe situations
- If you are a smoker, advice on stopping smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
- Make sure you are not exposed to any more silica
- Have regular tests to check for tuberculosis
- Have the annual flu vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine
If you have a valid claim for silicosis compensation, your solicitor will help you gain access to the best rehabilitation treatments to help you cope with your condition.
Which jobs are most at risk of silicosis?
While the health and safety standards in the UK have improved, statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that around 12 people die every year due to silicosis. While this number seems low, the HSE believes that the number of cases is substantially underestimated when taking into account the other diseases it may cause and the likely extent of past exposure in Britain.
People who work with silica-containing materials such as quartz, rocks, sand and glass are most at risk for developing the condition. As such, claims for silicosis compensation are more common among workers in the following industries:
- Mining and quarry works
- Stonemasonry and bricklaying
- Foundry work
- Worktop manufacturing and fitting
- Pottery and ceramics
- Glass manufacturing
It is not only employees in the above industries that can make a silicosis claim. If you have been exposed to silica dust due to negligence from any employer or third party, your solicitor will help you identify the responsible party and take legal action against them.
Is my employer liable for my silicosis claim?
Silicosis is an industrial respiratory disease that can severely interfere with your daily activities and ultimately be fatal. It is caused by exposure to silica dust and should be prevented if employers follow the best practices dictated by health and safety policies.
Several pieces of legislation cover what duties employers have to minimise the dangers of silicosis in the workplace, including:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
- The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
These legislations impose far-reaching obligations on employers to avoid or minimise the risks of dangers such as silica exposure. These obligations include the following:
- Carry out risk assessments to determine whether the work environment is hazardous
- Advise employees on what the hazards and risks are
- Provide adequate safety training and explain what the exposure limits are
- Educate workers about the safe handling of silica dust
- Provide appropriate and complimentary personal protective equipment, such as masks, goggles, filters or a respirator
- Have proper control measures in place to keep exposure to silica dust to a minimum
- Carry out regular inspection and equipment maintenance
If your employer has breached the health and safety regulations and failed to take all reasonable measures to keep you safe from harm, you might be able to make a silicosis compensation claim.
How long do I have to make a silicosis compensation claim?
According to the Limitation Act 1980, you need to start a silicosis claim within three years of becoming aware of your illness and that it might be linked to your workplace. Once the claim limitation date passes, your case becomes statute-barred, and you may lose your chance to receive compensation.
When it is fair and reasonable to do so, the court has the power to overrule the three-year time limit to claim. This will depend on the length and reason for your delay, the steps you took to obtain expert advice and how reasonably you acted once you learned you might be able to take legal action.
If your illness occurred while working abroad, the time limit to bring a silicosis compensation claim could be shorter than three years. In this case, it is essential that you contact a professional solicitor as soon as possible.
If you lost someone due to silicosis, you have three years to make a claim, whether from the date your loved one passed away or when you received the post-mortem results.
As a general rule, the sooner you seek legal advice, the better. This will give your solicitor sufficient time to investigate your case and gather evidence to support your silicosis claim. Furthermore, most solicitors will not take on a case with less than six months left to the limitation date, even if it has merit.
Can I still claim silicosis compensation if my employer has gone out of business?
If you have worked in an industry that creates silica dust, you might be able to claim silicosis compensation even if your employer is no longer trading. This is often the case with silicosis claims, seeing as the condition will usually take several decades to show symptoms.
If your employer has gone out of business, your solicitor will track down their former insurer and claim silicosis compensation from them. Companies have been legally required to have Employer’s Liability insurance against personal injury to workers, and it would still cover your silicosis claim even if your employer has gone out of business.
The insurance industry has set out The Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO), an independent non-profit body that gives claimants easy access to their employer’s liability insurance data. Your solicitor will use the ELTO platform and the records held at Companies House to help trace the insurers of your former employer and secure the compensation you deserve.
However, if both your former employer and their insurer are out of business or untraceable, it might not be possible to make a claim.
How much could a silicosis compensation claim be worth?
As with other personal injury claims, there is no fixed amount awarded in a silicosis claim. The compensation you can expect will depend on several different factors, such as the type and severity of your illness and lost wages. Your solicitor will carefully consider your injury and all of your financial losses, taking into account the following:
Special damages, awarded for the financial losses and expenses caused by silicosis, such as:
- The cost of diagnostic tests, medical visits and hospitalisation
- Prescriptions and other medical treatments
- Past and future loss of earnings
- Your care and support needs, both now and in the future
- Adaptations to your home or vehicle
- Travel expenses to and from medical appointments
General damages, awarded for the illness itself and how it affected your life, including:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and psychological trauma
- Mental anguish
- Lowered quality of life
- Reduced life expectancy
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Physical impairment
- Loss of prospects and enjoyment of life
Your solicitor will work out a suitable settlement for all the past and future financial expenses related to your illness. The compensation for pain, suffering and other general damages are awarded according to the guidelines published by the Judicial College and can range between a few thousand to more than £100,000.
Examples of compensation levels recommended by the Judicial College include the following:
- £29,380 to £51,460 for an illness that causes breathing difficulties and requires the use of an inhaler
- £51,420 to £65,710 for silicosis that causes a significant decline in lung function and breathing problems
- £65,710 to £91,350 for lung cancer that causes extreme pain and a decline in quality of life and general function
- £94,470 to £127,530 for severe disability caused by lung disease and a high chance of premature death