FAQs work related illness claims

1. When it comes to health and safety at work, what rights do employees have and what obligations do employers have?

Employers are legally responsible for the health and safety management of their employees. They must do whatever is reasonably practicable to protect their employee’s health, safety and welfare.

In order to do this employers have legal duties to assess the risks to their employees in the workplace. Any identified risk to the employee should then be addressed by the employer and any risk eliminated or reduced as far as reasonably practicable, this can include training of employees and safety measures.

Employers should have a health and safety policy in place for the protection of their employees. Employees should be made aware of the employer’s safety policies and procedures. The obligations on employers depend on the size of the business and the number of employees.

For particularly high risk activities there are specific rules and obligations on employers that are imposed by law.

Employers are required to consult their employees on health and safety. This can be by speaking to them directly or via a health and safety representative.

If employees think that their employer is exposing them to risk or is not carrying out their legal duties they should inform their employer of this in the first instance and, if no satisfactory response has been received, workers can make a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive.

If an employer fails in their health and safety duties and an employee is injured as a consequence the employee has the right to pursue a civil claim for compensation against their employer.

2. What is classified as a work-related illness and how can a solicitor help you to make a claim?

A work related illness is an illness which is caused or contributed to by a work activity. The work activity may not have caused the condition but may have aggravated a pre-existing condition.

Examples of some of the compensatable work related illnesses are asbestos related illnesses where the exposure to asbestos occurred whilst undertaking a work related activity, industrial deafness, industrial asthma, stress, dermatitis and vibration white finger.

A solicitor can help you to make a claim by investigating exactly how the illness came to develop, what caused the illness and to identify who was and may now be responsible for paying compensation for the illness.

A solicitor can also assist you in ensuring that you are obtaining the correct benefits for the illness from which you are suffering.

3. What issues can arise when making a claim against employers?

Some work-related illnesses develop many years after a sufferer has left the work place. A good example of this is asbestos related illness claims where the illness may develop over 20 years after work place exposure to asbestos.

In these claims the employer may have ceased trading or an employee may no longer be able to recall exactly who they worked for. If the sufferer was an employee it may be possible for a solicitor to obtain their employment history in order to assist in providing the identity of a defendant.

If the company is no longer trading a solicitor may be able to trace the insurer for the company and to direct the claim to them.

If the person suffering from a work-related illness remains working for the company that caused their illness there may be issues relating to their employment rights on which a solicitor can advise.

4. Is there a time limit on making a work-related illness claim?

Yes. Strictly speaking the time limit for issuing a work-related illness claim with the court is usually three years from the date of diagnosis (NOT three years from the date of exposure).  

It is worth getting advice from a solicitor who is specialist in this area as the circumstances involving work-related illness claims may mean that calculating the time limits are more complex than in other types of claim.