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An Ill Wind of Change?

Aug 21, 2008
The winds of change are blowing through the UK's employment legislation and it could well be an ill wind that blows nobody any good because the Government wants to scrap laws that require employers to retain insurance policy records for at least 40 years.

On the face of it that may seem a long time to hold on to records but there are a number of very serious industrial diseases which have a long incubation time often manifesting decades later. The fatal asbestos-related cancer Mesothelioma, which affects the lungs, abdominal cavity and lining around the heart, is just such a disease. Even though the use of asbestos is now banned in the European Union, Mesothelioma International, a support group for sufferers, estimates that 250,000 workers in Western Europe will die from this disease by 2029; its peak is expected between 2010 and 2020.

Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos fibre that is breathed in either through direct contact with asbestos or products containing asbestos or more rarely in a secondary form when fibres brought home on clothing, hair or skin are inhaled by the family, for example, a wife who regularly washed her husbands work overalls. The incubation time for this disease ranges from 20 to 50 years.

If employers were allowed to scrap their insurance policy records what recourse would workers who contract these so-called 'long tail' diseases have? Very little, says the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, who are lobbying the government along with a number of MP's to not only keep this legislation in place but tighten it up so employers have to keep a database of insurance policies.

Another reason for keeping these records is to enhance our knowledge about what is an industrial disease. Symptoms that may have put down to 'just one of those getting older things' can become the clearly defined symptoms of an industrial disease. For example, Vibration White Finger, a debilitating vascular disease in the hand caused by prolonged use of handheld vibrating tools, such as pneumatic drills or chainsaws, was only defined as an industrial disease in the 1980's. Even though it had been around for well over a century, cases involving Vibration White Finger only started to hit the courts in the 1990's.

Its only through court cases raising the profile of these industrial diseases that people discover that they are within their rights to pursue a claim, even if the damage was done many decades ago. Legislation requires that employers are able to cover the cost of compensation and legal fees for employees who are injured or made ill at work through the fault of the employer via their Employers Liability Compulsory Insurance.
Only limited companies with one employee who also owns 50% or more of the company, unlimited companies or companies where you are the sole employee or employ family members are exempt. Failure to have cover means a fine of up to 2,500 per day and is policed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This insurance document should be available for all employees to read.

Of course, while employers may be legally obliged to take measures to eradicate the causes of certain industrial diseases, accidents at work do happen, sometimes through negligence, sometimes through an unfortunate circumstance. If you are injured at work you should not be afraid to pursue compensation. A good claims solicitor will handle your case sensitively and you should be able to return to work with no bad feeling towards you. In the case of industrial diseases, even if it manifests decades later, a claims solicitor will be able to pursue a compensation claim on your behalf that will help support you and your family.
About the Author
We deal in a range of claims, including personal injury claims and compensation. Please visit http://www.1stclaims .co.uk for further information.
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