The Health and Safety Executive reports that around 1 to 6% of the general population suffer from latex allergies. An overseas study, published last year, indicates the picture is the same in other developed countries worldwide.
Latex allergies arise from the use of natural rubber latex (NRL) which are contained in thousands of everyday products used in the workplace and at home.
The use of these products is widespread. Examples of everyday goods containing potentially harmful levels of NRL include latex gloves, balloons, tyres, catheters, swimming caps or even the foam in some pillows and mattresses.
As a consequence of this widespread use, workers who regularly come into contact with latex products may be at risk of developing a life threatening allergy. The workers who are at risk include the following:
- Healthcare workers including nurses and doctors.
- Dental staff
- Cleaners and housekeepers
- Residential care workers
- Motor mechanics and electricians
There are two types of latex allergies. A Type 1 latex allergy is the most severe giving rise to an immediate allergic reaction. Symptoms can be both respiratory as well as dermatological and can include skin reactions, conjunctivitis, hives and asthma. In the more serious cases, a sufferer can experience anaphylaxis which is potentially life threatening as it restricts the sufferer’s ability to breath.
A Type IV allergy is considered less serious and does not occur immediately. They tend to occur several hours after the exposure to latex and symptoms generally include an itchy rash which is localised to the area of the exposure.
Once someone is sensitised, there is no cure for the condition which has to be managed by way of restricting exposure to further NRL products. Whilst there is some medication available, these are restricted to treating the symptoms as opposed to curing the allergy.
Latex and the law
Employers are under a duty to control the exposure to any products that are likely to cause ill health, including latex.
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations, they must assess any risks, take measures to control them, provide information and training and also ensure this is subsequently monitored.
With latex allergy cases that can be as simple as offering alternatives such as Vinyl gloves, but in some cases, latex free hospitals and dental surgeries are being introduced.
If an employer has failed in any of these duties, they could be held liable.
Leigh Day’s industrial disease team has experience in bringing such claims and representing latex allergy sufferers. We have brought claims in the civil courts and obtained high levels of compensation.
Our employment and discrimination team can also offer advice on employment problems arising from latex allergy. Your employer may have duties and obligations under the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010 if your latex allergy affects your ability to work. In particular, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to allow you to continue working. If they have not fulfilled these obligations, you may be entitled to bring separate proceedings in a tribunal.
Those diagnosed with a latex allergy arising from exposure in the workplace are usually entitled to claim Government benefits. In particular, they may be eligible to receive Industrial Injuries Disablement benefit (IIDB) which consists of a weekly payment the amount of which is accessed according to the level of disability.
We would be happy to speak to about this and assist you with the application process.