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Bringing a silicosis claim

Duty of care

Employers have a duty of care to protect workers from health and safety risks, including  exposure to silica dust. While the dangers of exposure to silica dust have been known for decades, and measures in places such as the US and UK have been taken to prevent and reduce such exposure, many workers continue to be affected by the disease worldwide. 
 
Because of the long latency period of the disease, which on average is between 10 to 30 years after exposure first took place, many workers only contract silicosis after they have stopped working for the company where they were exposed and in many cases, after they have retired from the workforce. 

Knowledge about the dangers of silicosis 

The association between dust and lung diseases and the preventative measures required to minimise the risk of these diseases have been known by ‘at-risk’ industries for over a century 
 
  • In 1700, Dr Bernardino Ramazzini, considered the founder of occupational medicine, identified evidence of silicosis in stone cutters.
  • By the late 1800’s, the effect of the increased dust levels mainly resulting from dry drilling was obvious in the high incidence of silicosis and pneumoconiosis. 
  • Publicity concerning the large-scale incidence of occupational silicosis as the result of the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel near Gauley  Bridge in 1931. Hundreds of workers died from silicosis while building the tunnel and another 1,500 were reported to have contracted the disease within two years. This led to federal action including a National Silicosis conference, which invited a campaign to “stop silicosis”
  • Information provided via the Pneumoconiosis Conferences which were held at approximately 10-yearly intervals between 1937 and 1969 and in particularl the 1959 Conference where the recommendations were widely received and adopted (Orenstein, 1960).
  • Annual Report of HM Chief Inspector of Factories, 1952, noted the introduction of types of respirators that protected the wearer against the inhalation of dust; 
  • HM Factory Inspectorate Issue Booklet No. 8 in the New Series on Safety, Health and Welfare, ‘Toxic Substances in Factory Atmospheres’, 1960, which discussed permissible concentrations of dust and discussed practical measures that could be taken against inhalation; 
 
It is clear the health risks associated with exposure to silica dust have been well documented for over a century; however our industrial disease claim lawyers have represented many clients whose employers have done little to protect their employees from exposure to such dust.

Making a claim for compensation

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis then you should talk to a specialist industrial disease lawyer about your entitlement to compensation. In order to bring a claim, we will need to: 
 
  • establish a relationship (known as a “duty of care”) between you and your past employer.  The usual way of proving employment is from your National Insurance records and your evidence relating to your employment history. 
  • prove there was a “breach of duty” i.e that your employer did something wrong, in that they exposed you to levels of dust which would be deemed negligent at the time and 
  • establish that your illness was caused by that exposure to silica dust. This will require medical evidence confirming that your exposure to asbestos contributed to the risk of you developing silicosis.  
 
With historic disease cases, where your exposure may have happened decades ago and your previous employer is  no longer trading, we will investigate and help you trace the insurers who had provided Employers Liability insurance cover during the periods in which you were employed against whom the claim can be brought.   

Successful industrial diseases claims

We acted for Terence Frith, a former mine worker, who suffered pneumoconiosis as a result of significant exposure to respirable silica dust. Mr Frith was negligently exposed to high quantities of dust, and safety provisions were practically non-existent, a situation which was typical of the mining industry despite the widespread knowledge of the dangers of silicosis at the time. 
 
When describing how he drilled blast holes into the rock floor using a hand held drilling machine, Mr Frith said,
 
“I could not see the next person standing close by or my hands in front of my face because of the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Somebody might be arms’ length away from me but I couldn’t see him because of the amount of dust. The only thing I could make out was the beam of light from his helmet.”
 
Our industrial disease claim team was able to negotiate a substantial sum for Mr Frith’s pain and suffering and consequential losses. 
 
As well as cases where silica dust exposure has happened in Britain, Leigh Day has also brought silicosis claims for foreign nationals injured by multinational corporations. In 2016, Leigh Day reached a historic landmark settlement on behalf of 4,365 South African gold miners who worked in unsafe conditions and suffered silicosis and silico-tuberculosis caused by excessive exposure to dust. 
 
To speak to one of our experienced industrial disease claim lawyers please phone 020 7650 1200 or complete our enquiry form.

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