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What is an Industrial Disease?

An Industrial Disease (sometimes known as an Occupational disease) is a chronic illness as a result of a working environment or activity. The disease must have developed due to exposure in the workplace and the link between the work and the disease must be well known in medical research.





The History of Industrial Disease

The first industrial disease to be recognised was a squamous cell carcinoma in boys who worked as chimney sweeps in 1775. Young boys were used as chimney sweeps due to their size and agility. The soot from the chimneys would enter their scrotal sacs and cause carcinomas. This led to a change in the working conditions of chimney sweeps, acknowledged as the first known group of workers to be injured by an industrial disease.

Other notable industrial diseases have included:

  • Radium jaw
  • Radiation sickness in staff working in the nuclear industry
  • X-Ray exposure in Radiologists
  • Lead poisoning
  • Anthrax

In the 1700s, the Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini (essentially the father of occupational medicine) first described Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) in twenty different types of industrial workers.

At the turn of the 19th century, there was a public outcry over child labour and the conditions children worked in. This led Sir Robert Peel to introduce the Factory Act 1802. The Factory Act applied to textile mills and factories with twenty or more employees. Some of the requirements under the Act were to have sufficient windows and opening ventilation. The factories to be cleaned at least twice yearly with quicklime and water.

In 1833, a further Factories Act introduced factory inspectors. This was a revelation in regulation and ensured that the Factories Act could be suitably enforced. During the Victorian age, there was a growing interest in worker welfare. This was partly influenced by popular writers such as Charles Dickens.

From the late 18th Century up to the mid-to-late 20th Century, health and safety regulation continued to be tightened. This all led up to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This was a revolutionary piece of legislation which has formed the basis of health and safety law across the world. The 1974 Act encompassed all industries and employees, leading to the creation of the Health and Safety Executive ( HSE).

What are the most common industrial diseases?

An overview:

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing impairment due to exposures to loud noises. It can also lead to a ringing in the ears known as Tinnitus or a loss of awareness of certain frequencies. Hearing loss is often not painful but can make it harder for the sufferer to hear sounds fully or noises to be inaudible or far away. Symptoms may last for a minimal time or be permanent.

It is not unusual for sufferers of noise-induced hearing loss to only notice problems many years and sometimes decades after exposure. This is because it is generally only when the hearing loss from natural aging (presbycusis) marries up with the NIHL loss later in life that the problem is noticed. For example: a fifty-year-old man who used to work as a miner between the ages of twenty–forty has recently started to notice some hearing problems. It may well be that he is noticing his problems earlier than he otherwise would if not for the extra noise exposure working as a miner.

Noise-induced hearing loss will be diagnosed normally by an ENT consultant, taking into consideration the amount of exposure that a person has had throughout their entire working life, and also on the results of audiometric examination. Hearing loss that is caused by noise exposure will be indicated by certain patterns within a hearing test. If these patterns are not identified, it would be unlikely a medical expert would diagnose any hearing loss being as a result of noise exposure.

Some of the most common industries/sectors where noise damage can occur are:

  • Steelworkers
  • Coal miners
  • Construction workers
  • Factory workers
  • Nightclub workers

This is not an exhaustive list, and each incidence has to be considered on its own merits.

Repetitive Strain Injury

This is when a patient has pain in their nerves, tendons, and muscles due to a repetitive movement. It tends to affect the forearms, elbows, neck, shoulder, wrists and hands. Symptoms include weakness, cramps, pains, tenderness and tingling. Miners, poultry workers, office workers, workers that are doing a similar action with their arms or legs.

There are two types of RSI:

  • Type One – This is where a Doctor can diagnose a recognised medical condition such as Carpal Tunnel, Tennis Elbow. It is usually characterised by swelling and inflammation of the muscles or tendons.
  • Type Two – This is where a Doctor can not diagnose a medical condition from the symptoms. This is usually because there are no obvious symptoms , apart from pain. Type 2 RSI is also referred to as non specific pain syndrome.

Workers who undertake many repetitive tasks during the working day are at risk of suffering with RSI. This includes people working in many different industries such as but not limited to:

  • Assembly line workers
  • Factory workers
  • Office workers

It is important to work in a comfortable environment which has been appropriately adjusted and assessed to ensure that it is safe. The following diagram provides an example of what should be considered for office workers:

Industrial Disease

Work-related Upper Limb Disorder

This area covers a range of upper limb injuries that include issues with soft tissues, muscles, tendons and ligaments that are tied in with circulatory and nerve supply to the limbs. They are usually caused by awkward seating positions, repetitive work, continuing a task for an extended period of time or a poor working environment with bad lighting and unusual temperatures.

Examples include:

  • Tenosynovitis – inflammation of the synovial sheaths of tendons usually resolved with rest over a period of time
  • De Querrvain’s tenosynovitis – involves inflammation of the tendons of the thumb
  • Stenosing tenosynovitis – also known as trigger finger and thickening of the tendons
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – tightening of the nerves in the wrist
  • Epidcondylitis – inflammation of the elbow often known as Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow
  • Vibration White Finger and/or Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome – This is caused by exposure to vibration from a handheld piece of machinery. It depends on the frequency, duration, magnitude and transmission of the vibration. It affects the blood vessels, muscles, joints and nerves of the hands and forearms. It is characterised by whiteness or numbness in the fingers and loss of manual dexterity. The symptoms may become worse in the cold weather or after long exposure i.e after a long shift at work. The vibrations cause both neurological and vascular symptoms. Although it is not a requirement that you have both for a diagnosis to be provided.

Typically the types of tools that cause vibrations that could lead to injuries are:

  • Sanders, grinders and disc cutters
  • Hammers drills
  • Chainsaws
  • Concrete breakers/road breakers
  • Cut–off saws
  • Impact wrenches
  • Jigsaws
  • Power Hammers and chisels
  • Strimmers
  • Handheld grinders

Cumulative Back Injuries

These are injuries to the back, such as strains and sprains which are caused by repetitive, improper lifting of heavy boxes and other related weights which causes the muscles in the back to be overstretched, resulting in trauma.

The risk to suffering a cumulative back problem as a result of work is not limited to a finite number of industries, as literally anyone who undertakes any kind of manual handling operation will be at risk if this is not performed appropriately.

As defined under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, a manual handling operation is any transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof).

Examples of such scenarios are:

  • Homecare assistants who are required to lift patients from beds to wheelchairs
  • Worker pushing heavy trollies distributing goods
  • Furniture removers moving and delivering furniture
  • Employees having to carry/move goods within a warehouse or distribution centre

Skin conditions and Work-Related Dermatitis

Skin conditions and dermatitis are very common in the workplace and are due to exposure to substances such as chemicals, dusts or fibres that cause a reaction to the skin. It may also be due to having wet hands for long periods of time and not having the ability to dry them, which then may leads to eczemas, dermatitis or urticaria.

The symptoms would be a localized rash which becomes red, blistered, dry and cracked. These rashes often appear with a few hours or days of exposure to an irritant or allergen. The rash can take anywhere from several days to weeks to heal. Even after days, contact dermatitis fades only if the skin no longer comes in contact with the allergen or irritant.

Chronic contact dermatitis can develop when the removal of the offending agent no longer provides expected relief. Common Industries such as catering, construction, hairdressing, printing, factories, dentistry and health services could cause skin conditions.

Industrial cancer

These kinds of cancers often affect the lungs, skin or liver. They are caused by exposure to a carcinogen in the workplace which can be either chemical, physical or biological. Examples can be arsenic, dioxins, silica dust, UV radiation, asbestos, wood dusts, metalworking fluids and mineral oils. Dusts that can cause cancer are known to be, but not limited to, wood dusts, asbestos, diesel exhaust and environmental tobacco smoke.

Occupational Lung Diseases

These are divided into five main areas of disease:

Occupational asthma – this is an asthma that has been caused due to breathing in particular substances, gases, dust, chemical fumes or animal fur. It can be that a person is sensitive to that agent, causing an immunological response or an allergy.

industrial disease

Respiratory cancers – which include lung cancer caused by contact to particles such as diesel exhaust emissions, oils, sulphur, mustard gas, nitrogen oxides, fly ash, fiberglass silica, asbestos. It is also known as Bronchiolitis obliterans and causes injury to the smallest airways in the lungs.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – a long term lung disease which reduces the flow of air into the lungs due to damage of the tissue and inflammation of the airways. Subtypes of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is usually caused by gases, vapours, fumes and dust, and is seen in industries such as mining, textiles, plastic, leather, construction and rubber.

industrial disease


Pneumoconiosis – this is caused by scarring and inflammation of the long term and is also known as allergic alveolitis, bagpipe lung or extrinsic allergic alveolitis. It is due to the breathing in of organic dust and is seen in workers dealing with coal dust, asbestosis, and silica.

Other non-cancerous respiratory diseases – these include:

  • Allergic alveolitis – an allergic reaction due to organic material which causes inflammation in the lungs
  • Diffuse Pleural thickening and Pleural plagues – disease of the lung lining caused by asbestos
  • Byssinosis – an asthma-like disease where the airways become confined in reaction to exposure to cotton dust.


Lung disease – there are 20,000 new cases of self-reported breathing or lung issues each year. There are also 12,000 lung disease deaths each year linked to past exposures at work.

The pie chart below shows the split of the cause of deaths per year which are believed to be caused by occupational lung disease:

industrial disease

43,000 people who worked in the last twelve months currently have ‘breathing or lung problems’, which they believe were either caused or made worse by work.

Industrial deafness – there were 1395 claims from 2008 to 2017 but only 10 of these were claims from women. There were 23,000 workers with work-related hearing issues from 2015 to 2018.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) – from 2008-17 there were 7115 new claims of which 7095 were from men.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – 3285 cases have been made from 2008-17.

How did I contract an Industrial Disease?

Sufferers will usually contract an Industrial Disease through their working environments. It may be that the symptoms of the disease do not appear for some time and they may have left their position before the illness manifests itself.

This means that when you are looking to run a case against a previous employer, we may have to trace back to the time that you worked there. It could also be that a patient has worked at a variety of similar employers who may all be liable for the presenting symptoms.

If the company you worked for is no longer trading, this will not necessarily be a barrier to claiming. We will undertake what is known as an ELTO search. This stands for Employers Liability Tracing Office. This search will look to identify who insured the company when you worked for them. If insurers are located, they will have to step into the shoes of the Defendant and become the paymasters of the claim.

As a lot of these matters relate to exposure from decades earlier, it is not unusual that Claimants either forget jobs where they may have briefly experienced exposure, or the exact years of employment. Also, it is not unusual that the name somebody has understood to have been their employer is not actually the legal entity that employed them.

We will therefore obtain your employment schedule from the HMRC, which will list all your employers through your lifetime. After discussion with yourself, we will then look to proceed with the claims against all the identified Defendants and their insurers.

What can I claim?

Each Industrial Disease case has to be treated individually, and not every case will be the same. In any claim for personal injury there are broadly two heads of damages that can be claimed:

  • General Damages

General damages are awards that are made for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity of life. Loss of amenity means the inability to complete activities, either temporarily or permanently, after an accident, which could be undertaken before. This is an award designed to compensate you for the actual injuries suffered, and the effect those have had on your quality of life.

  • Special Damages

This is a head of damages to compensate for any financial losses as a result of the Industrial Disease. This could be any loss of earnings, any medication you have had to pay for, or any cost of care for the extra care you have needed from family or care providers.

If you are not able to do things such as gardening, walking the dog and have to pay somebody for these services as a direct consequence of your Industrial Disease, these can also be claimed for.

In regards to General Damages Judges, insurance companies and solicitors use a basic guide called the Judicial Guidelines which is an indication of what could be expected from an injury or symptoms.

As a rough guide, claims for general damages for the different types of disease claims are as follows:

Deafness/tinnitus – Depending on the severity, claims for general damages for noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus will fall between £5,000 – £20,000

Asbestos-related illness   – Depending on the illness, the award can range from £60,000 – £110,000

Vibration White Finger – Award will normally be around £10,000 – £20,000

Occupational Asthma – Award will normally fall between £3,000 – £12,000

Dermatitis – Award will normally fall between £1,500 – £7,000

To stress – this is an estimate of what most cases settle for. It is only once medical evidence has been obtained that a full assessment of the value of the general damages can be made. The settlement figure may ultimately be higher or lower than the figures quoted above.


How do I avoid Industrial Disease?

Skin Conditions and work-related dermatitis – the Health and Safety Executive advises people to use the APC approach when dealing with a skin condition

  • A – AVOID direct contact between unprotected hands, substances, product and wet work.
  • P – PROTECT – make sure to use correct personal protective equipment such as gloves, use cleaning cream, use washing facilities to remove any products, and follow up with a moisturising cream to protect the skins natural oils.
  • C – CHECK for any red, dry or itchy skin to aid in the early diagnosis of a skin condition in order that treatment can be obtained as soon as possible for better recovery.

In other industrial diseases, the correct protective clothing such as gloves, overalls, hearing protection, goggles should be provided by the employer to keep the employee safe.

As well as the common law duties placed upon the employer to ensure a safe place of work and a safe system of work, your employer will also have duties under statute to minimise your risk to injury and disease. Depending on the type of exposure, there are numerous duties placed upon the employer to ensure the safety of their employees.

Briefly, a number of them are as follows :

  • The Management of Health and Safety Regs ’92 – duty to ensure adequate risk assessments are undertaken
  • Provision and use of Work Equipment ’98 – Ensure all work equipment is so constructed or adapted as to be suitable for the purpose for which it is used or provided.
  • The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regs ’92 – Ensure suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health ’02 – Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.

How do I make a claim?

If you have read the above and feel that you may be suffering from any of the symptoms whilst exposed at work, call Oakwood Solicitors to speak to a legally qualified solicitor or paralegal, who can give you free advice on whether you are eligible to make a claim.

In order to run the majority of personal injury claims, you have to have started the claim within three years of the injury. However, with Industrial Disease claims, it may be that the injury started over a period of time and was only diagnosed within the last three years. We will be able to clarify this for you.

We are of the belief that it is better to get peace of mind by checking if you have a claim, rather than letting the time run out and never knowing. For an Industrial Disease claim, the three-year limitation will normally start ticking from when the Court finds that you linked or when you should have linked the problem.

We would strongly recommend that legal advice is taken on this issue, as for each cases limitation dates will be decided on their own merits.

I have just been diagnosed with an industrial disease but I stopped working at the company a while ago? Can I still make a claim?

If you have only become aware of a problem recently and have only just noticed issues, then your action should be in time for limitation purposes. However, this is something that is solely evidence-based for each action, so it is strongly recommended that you speak with a solicitor to take further advice.

Although a number of illnesses such as occupational cancer, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and asbestos-related illness latency periods can be a number of decades, for other diseases such as occupational asthma, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and vibration white finger, you would expect these symptoms to manifest at the time of (or very shortly after) exposure.

Will I lose my job if I make a claim against my employer?

As a lot of these kinds of claims relate to employment from many decades earlier, it is not uncommon that the Claimant is either no longer working for the Defendant, or even that the Defendant is no longer trading.

If you are still working for the Defendant, they cannot dismiss you for making or proposing to make a claim. If your employer attempts to do so, you are likely able to make a successful unfair dismissal claim. Generally, in our experience, the high majority of insurers understand their duties owed to you and the right you have to pursue a claim if this duty has been breached.

In the high majority of matters, the claim will normally be transferred from the Defendant directly to their insurer, and it will be insurers who will deal with the Defendant on the matter on a day-to-day basis.

How long will my case take to run?

Each case is very different, and whether an insurance company agrees to deal with a case depends on a number of factors. It is therefore very difficult to advise on the length of time a case may take, but the average can take anywhere from twelve months to three years.

Why use Oakwood Solicitors to run your Industrial Disease case?

We have a very experienced and dedicated team of people in the Industrial Disease department. They are able to identify whether a claim is likely to be viable and give advice accordingly. The team works with an extensive network of audiologists, dermatologists, acoustic engineers, lung specialists and other experienced medical experts. They have dealt with a number of claims in all areas of Industrial Disease and achieved some excellent results.

How would my case be funded?

Our cases are brought on a no-win, no-fee basis. If we accept your claim, as long as terms of the agreement are complied with by yourself – namely that you do not mislead and that you co-operate, there will be no charge to you in the event the cases fails. If the case succeeds, there will be a deduction made from the damages.

People of note affected by Industrial Disease

In 2001 after the World Trade Centre terror attacks, many of the workers who survived were affected by terminal airways disease, asthma, acute eosinophilic pneumonia, asthmatic bronchitis, and sarcoidosis.

  • Steve Martin – developed tinnitus after a shootout on the set of ‘Three Amigos’
  • Bob Dylan – the legendary musician developed tinnitus after years of playing live music
  • Steve McQueen – he believed that he was exposed to asbestos when he was in the US Marines Corps. He died from a heart attack after surgery to remove a large tumour.
  • Ed Lauter – actor in Born on 4th July.
  • Merlin Olsen – he was an American footballer who went onto becoming an actor, starring in Little House on the Prarie‘ He contracted asbestosis and sued a number of American film studios for exposure to asbestos.
  • Paul Gleason – he was an actor in Trading Places, The Breakfast Club and Die Hard. He died due to asbestosi,s after exposure on building sites as a young man.
  • Warren Zevon – member of the Rolling Stones who died from mesothelioma due to playing in the attic of his father’s carpet shop when he was a child.
  • Roger Daltrey – has severe hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise in the entertainment industry
  • Whoopie Goldberg – actress in Ghost and Sister Act – wears hearing aids due to loud music exposure

Are there any charities that could help me?

Occupational Lung Cancer – https://www.asthma.org.uk

Am I entitled to any help or assistance?

Case Study

The Claimant, Miss X, worked as a retail assistant for a major national retail store. Miss X was required to stack boxes full of heavy homeware up to six or seven boxes/totes high. The Claimant started to feel pain in her right arm and noticed that it had become swollen. The swelling was worse when lifting or moving the totes.

The Claimant’s symptoms persisted, and she sought advice from her GP. Miss X was then diagnosed with right medial epicondylitis. The claimant indicated that she felt fit to work with her left arm but not her right arm. Miss X ‘s symptoms progressed and she was unable to work. She instructed us to bring an action on her behalf.

A letter of claim was prepared and sent to the Defendant, and on disclosure of documents of the time, it was clear that the Defendant had breached their own duty of care and not complied with their own risk assessments. The Defendant continued to deny the claim and that they had breached their duty. An orthopaedic consultant was instructed, who supported the link that the injuries were attributable to the work, and that it would take over a year for full recovery.

The Defendant continued to deny the claim and it was subsequently issued with the court on behalf of the Defendant. At trial we were successful in proving that the Defendant had breached their duty, and a judgment for over £30,000 was made in favour of Miss X for her pain, suffering and loss of earnings.


Oakwood Solicitors represented me with my claim for Industrial Deafness. I cannot recommend them highly enough. My communications were all with Natasha Hardy, who guided me throughout the claim, and kept me informed of all developments during what turned out to be quite a lengthy process.

“I was pleased with the settlement and would like to thank Natasha for her time and patience, and the excellent advice she offered. As stated earlier, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Very deserving of the five stars I have given.” – Bernard S: Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) client


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