How to avoid dermatitis at work

Occupational contact dermatitis is a widespread, under-reported, painful and unsightly disease which attacks the skin of workers exposed to any one or more of a surprisingly wide range of allergenic and irritant substances in the workplace, and can leave it swollen, reddened, cracked and blistered. The fact that so many employees contract dermatitis in the UK annually as a result of their work provides pretty conclusive evidence that some businesses risk management systems are in need of a revisit – or those businesses risk the chance of an expensive personal injury claim.

Preventing incidences of contact dermatitis at work is not a herculean undertaking for employers. Despite the relative ease with which this skin disease could be eliminated or greatly reduced in the UK workforce and the fact that undertaking to protect their employees from it is a legal obligation on employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (amongst other regulations), the problem of employers failing in their duty of care to their employees in this respect refuses to go away.


Employers are legally obliged to identify hazards, environmental and work-related, assess risk and have control measures in place to protect their employees and this system should be regularly revisited and updated as necessary. When it comes to avoiding contact dermatitis at work, current best industry practice stipulates a three prong strategy designed to fulfil employers’ duty of care obligations:

1) Employee health and safety training – regular skin checks for indications of dermatitis, either carried out by a health professional or by way of self-examination. Training for employees about the nature of the substances they are exposed to in the course of their work, the risks the substances pose and the precautions that must be taken remove or reduce those risks. How to use the personal protective equipment supplied, such as barrier creams and gloves. Employees informed of the results of any exposure monitoring.

2) Protecting skin – skincare information available, including on recommended hand washing techniques and the use of pre and post work skin moisturisers.

3) Avoiding contact – by substituting the allergenic or irritant substances with safer alternatives, remove physical contact with the allergenic or irritant substances from the work process, automate the process or use equipment for handling.

It’s really not rocket science, and all that dealing with contact dermatitis requires is common sense and compliance with health and safety legislation.

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Can I claim compensation for an accident in a school?

The fact that you work in a school rather than in any other type of employment has no adverse effect on your right to claim personal injury compensation if you are the victim of a workplace accident. Your employer has a clearly defined legal duty to ensure both that your school is a safe working environment for all employees and also to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable your health, safety and welfare whilst you are at work.

If you are unfortunate enough to have an accident at work that you feel wasn’t your fault you need to be able to determine whose fault it actually was. At this point it is well worth considering retaining the services of a specialist work accident solicitor, who will be able to accurately determine who was to blame for your accident and advise you as to whether or not you can bring your claim.

To be able to bring that claim for compensation for the accident you had at your school, the cause of your accident needs to be investigated. If that cause would not have existed if your employer had taken all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate it as they are legally obliged to do and if your accident was clearly a reasonably foreseeable consequence of your employer not taking those steps, then you might well be able to pursue your claim.

A relatively clear cut example of determining the viability of a personal injury compensation claim would be if a school employee broke her ankle falling into a water filled pothole as she supervised a playground. The Head Teacher had long been aware of the poor condition of the playground surface but remedial work had not been carried out. The poor surface constituted hazard and risk to the health and safety of staff and pupils alike.

The Head Teacher or controlling authority for the school has a legal duty to control that risk either by ideally repairing the playground surface or if that wasn’t immediately possible, preventing staff and students accessing it and erecting warning signs. If none of these steps had been taken the controlling authority for the school could have been clearly demonstrated to have been in breach of their legal health and safety obligations and duty of care to staff and students and as an injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of this breach, they could be held responsible for the accident.

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Avoiding a burn injury at work

Employers are legally obliged to undertake a risk assessment for all the processes within the workplace that present a potential hazard to their workforce. These risk assessments must detail the hazards, the risks to health/wellbeing they represent and the measures to be taken to remove or reduce those risks. The contents of risk assessments and standard operating procedures need to be thoroughly familiar to employees as part of their induction and on-going training. If this process is competently followed through from beginning to end, the risks to employees will be identified and where reasonably practicable, removed or ameliorated. The risks of burn injuries should obviously be covered by the above.

Over and above that, employers have a duty of care to ensure that their employees come to no harm, physically or psychologically as a result of their employment and this duty encompasses the requirement to ensure that all staff are trained to safely use the equipment required to be operated in the course of their work and that that equipment is in good repair and safe to use. Employers must also make sure that their employees are aware of how to maintain a safe working environment and work without danger to themselves or others.

With regard to specifically avoiding burn injuries at work the following steps can be taken:

• Training workers in burn hazard awareness and reduction practices applicable to their workplace and duties.

• Employees remaining alert to burn hazards whilst working.

• Employees avoiding reaching through or over hot surfaces, areas, or corrosive chemicals.

• The use of personal protective equipment (PPE), e.g. gloves, goggles, aprons or overalls.

• Employees not undertaking tasks for which they haven’t been trained or which would place them in danger of being burned.

• Employees realising that steam can burn and some vapours can burn if inhaled.

• Only using correctly maintained and safe electrical equipment.

• Equipment with hot surfaces fitted with guards or warning signs.

• Keeping the workplace tidy so as to avoid slip, trip and fall hazards

If you have experienced a burn injury at your workplace caused by your employer failing to discharge his duty of care to keep you safe at work you might be entitled to claim compensation for your injury.

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Backlash against Plans to Reform Mesothelioma Cases

The Ministry of Justice’s proposal to introduce fixed costs for all mesothelioma cases has been heavily criticised by asbestos-related disease sufferers, shortly before a consultation is due to begin over the issue.

In December last year, it was announced that a consultation focusing on ways to streamline the settlement of mesothelioma cases would be launched around springtime.

A consultation into the matter has been expected since the government placed asbestos-related diseases outside the remit of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. Furthermore, the reform of no-win, no-fee agreements and abolishment of reclaimable post-event insurance will be reviewed later this year.

It is expected that the spring consultation will feature the following proposals:

• Fixed legal costs for the conduct of mesothelioma personal injury claims

• A bespoke pre-action protocol for dealing with such cases

• Streamlining of the administration and settlement of cases through an online claims portal

There are fears however that the government has misunderstood the nature of mesothelioma cases. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum Chairman, Tony Whitston, has suggested that the MoJ has oversimplified cases and that attempting to resolve cases as quickly as possible was not necessarily a good idea.

This is in stark contrast to the view of Justice Minister Helen Grant who contends that claims should be settled as early and as quickly as possible, without the need for costly and time-consuming litigation. With many sufferers dying before settlement, this may be more cost-effective.

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Personal Injury Firm Forced to Cut Staff Following Civil Service Reforms

One of the UK’s largest personal injury law firms has been forced to lay off several members of staff, claiming that the governments sweeping civil justice reforms are to blame.

Forster Dean which has established itself on High Streets in the Midlands and North West in particular has let 13 staff members go, 10 of whom were solicitors.

Grey Shields, Forster Dean’s Chief Executive, has warned that these initial cutbacks may merely be the tip of the iceberg. Various members of staff have opted for early redundancy package and life is not expected to get easier in any of the firms 29 offices.

Experts in the legal sector added further gloom by suggesting that many other PI firms will be forced into similar cutbacks as they struggle to cope with changes in the law which have restricted their market. Indeed, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers conducted a study into the effects of government reforms of civil justice on PI firms, finding that 75% would need to reduce staff numbers.

The government’s civil justice reforms will see the small claims limit raised significantly and a reduction in fees for RTA claims of low value, thus reducing caseloads and potential margins for PI firms.

Forster Dean has been a vocal critic of the reforms, even submitting a Freedom of Information Request for the evidence supporting the governments move to cut fixed recoverable costs. Furthermore, Shields warned Justice Minister Helen Grant that 2 out of every 10 qualified solicitors across PI firms would be lost as a result of the reforms.

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How falls at work happen

Falls from height have consistently been one of the most common causes of injuries sustained in the workplace according to the statistics compiled on year on year by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE divide their fall statistics between falls from height that involve steps and stairs and those that don’t but regardless of this statistical differentiation the injuries that result from such falls in totality can range from the immediately fatal through a spectrum to those from which recovery is rapid and complete.

The reasons such falls occur are many and varied and will be investigated below, but fundamentally they usually occur due to employers failing in their legal duty of care to their employees to remove or minimise wherever practical, the likelihood of injury as a result of the working environment and working practices. At one or multiple points along the Planning (safe working practices and procedures), Providing (a safe environment and safety equipment), Training (employees to be aware of health and safety issues and how to correctly use the safety equipment) (PPT) pathway, the employer fails and the employees can pay a heavy price with regard to their wellbeing as a result.

The most common manifestations of an employers’ failure to discharge their duty of care fall into two categories; firstly in an unsafe environment and/or equipment and secondly in a failure to train employees adequately, i.e. to operate machinery or use equipment safely and correctly and/or to be aware of health and safety issues and comply with health and safety regulations pertinent to their jobs. In practical terms this leads to the following circumstances most commonly causing falls.

The following list is not exhaustive but provides a good indication of the variety of situations and environments which directly contribute to falls in the workplace – it makes for depressing reading as these circumstances aren’t historical but currently occurring across the country as you read this. Poor lighting, lack of hand or guardrails on steps, badly assembled scaffolding, excessive weight on scaffolds, working on scaffolds in high winds, using badly maintained or unrepaired ladders, ladders slipping from under users, working on structurally unsound roofs, falling through roofs and skylights, working from height in trees with faulty harnessing or inadequate tree climbing training, a cluttered environment, uneven ground surfaces, wet or greasy floors, cleaning large immobile lorries, ice or snow, lack of training in how to spread body weight and minimise injury in the event of fall, a lack of personal protective equipment.

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Avoiding falls at work

Is avoiding falls at work a personal responsibility of the employee? Partially it is, because if an employee acts in a reckless or deliberate manner with no regard to his safety or the safety of his colleagues and those actions are partially responsible for the accident and subsequent injury they sustain, any claim for compensation would have to take this, what is termed ‘contributory negligence’ into account, even if the working environment or equipment or machinery or lack of training also played a part in causing the accident. That said, in most personal injury compensation claims the responsibility for the accident is usually borne by the employer.

This weight of responsibility for an accident on the employer reflects the legal duty of care that employers have to ensure as far as possible, that no harm comes to their employees in the course of their employment. Essentially this means, in the case of preventing falls at work, ensuring that the working environment is tidy with no clutter, that floor surfaces are even and present no tripping hazard, that steps and stairs are fitted with secure handrails and guards, that lighting is adequate and that ladders and other machinery and equipment functions correctly and safely. They must also ensure that workers are kitted out with the appropriate personal protective equipment such as safety helmets and harnesses and footwear with non-slip soles.

This attention to making the working environment safe and providing safety equipment will all be for nought however, if the employer fails to adequately train their employers to safely carry out their jobs; to use and maintain their safety equipment appropriately and correctly, to understand the health and safety issues associated with those jobs, including awareness of the hazards they could potentially encounter and to make non-compliance with mandatory health and safety regulations a disciplinary offence where such compliance is included in job descriptions. For instance, a roofer would be trained in the assessing the structural integrity of a roof before placing his weight and that of his equipment upon it and warehouse workers would be made aware of the slip hazards presented by split liquids or grease on the floor, or carrying loads at height or over uneven surfaces.

To summarise; it is the combination of a safe workplace, adequate training and supervision and the personal responsibility of the individual employee that successfully results in the incidence of falls, and other accidents, being greatly reduced at work. Remove any of those ingredients to safe working and the workplace can once more take on the aspect of a hostile environment.

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Chemical Accidents and Claiming Injury Compensation

The damage caused by accidents involving harmful chemical substances can be devastating. We have seen in Bhopal India (1984) and more recently in the Gulf of Mexico (2010), the human and environmental cost that comes with spills and explosions that expose us to dangerous materials. It is therefore important that the storage and usage of hazardous chemicals is strictly regulated.

Chemical accidents can occur in a number of ways which means health and safety standards must be met. Vehicles transporting chemicals, storage tanks and factories are all hazardous and can put people at risk. As a result, it is not surprising to see personal injury claims caused by contact with harmful chemicals.

The labelling and safe storage of chemicals is of paramount importance in preventing accidents. We are all familiar with the symbols warning us about toxic or caustic chemicals and such markings are essential in order to prevent confusion with consumer goods like drinks or hygiene products for example. The injuries that could be caused by a particular product should be made clear, whether it’s blindness, poisoning, burns or any other grievance.

Those working with dangerous chemicals should be provided with protective clothing which must be worn at all times. If this equipment in not provided you may find that your employer is guilty of professional negligence. The nature of the chemicals used will dictate the type of clothing required. Such clothing should be extensively tested before it is used by anyone to ensure that it is fit for purpose. If you suffer an injury whilst working with dangerous chemicals and you are not convinced that the necessary precautions were taken to protect you, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim.

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Sustaining a personal injury through exposure to harmful chemicals can result in physical and psychological trauma and it is only right that you are compensated accordingly if your injuries were no fault of your own.

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MoJ Retreats on Plans to Extend Claims Portal this April

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been forced to retreat over controversial plans to extend the Road Traffic Accident (RTA) portal in April 2013 after legal challenges were brought by the professional legal bodies conducting the judicial review of the plans.

The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) as well as the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) argued that by enacting the proposals, the government would be acting unlawfully – a claim which Justice Secretary Chris Grayling later accepted. The MoJ has promised that the changes would only come into force by the April deadline if a full evaluation of the portal in its current form had been carried out, however this condition was not met. Although the MoJ set up an evaluation by a university Professor, he reported back in June 2011 that another 12 months of evidence was required in order to justify the extension of the RTA portal.

The MoJ’s radical proposals included cutting fees for the portal by more than 50% and increasing the claims limit for road accident compensation claims to £25,000 in a bid to speed up the claims process and reduce frivolous or fraudulent compensation claims. However, various legal professionals have argued that plans to implement these changes by April 2013 were “impractical” and lacking in “proper consideration”. Both MASS and APIL have stressed that they intend to assist the government in improving the portal and that the interests of injured victims remains their paramount concern.

The MoJ will now need to reassess the proposed timetable for implementing the changes and a new schedule is expected to be introduced early this year. The consultation will continue undeterred though, despite the many contentious issues that have been raised.

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