While many people have been injured after exposure to highly hazardous substances, everyday items known as solvents can also be extremely dangerous. These substances are also referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds and the fact they are used in a variety of different industries and present in many different products can cause issues in the workplace. One of the main problems with solvent exposure injuries is the fact that while some contact with solvents can prompt an immediate medical reaction, others may take weeks or even months to emerge.
As with any personal injury claim, solvent exposure compensation claims tend to be based on an employer’s duty of care to all employees to ensure their safety and well-being. There are a number of issues to take into consideration when reviewing a solvent exposure injury.
Employer’s Duty Of Care From Solvent Exposure
All employers have a duty of care to maintain the safety and well-being of all employees as well as customers. This legal obligation is contained within the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and while there are other regulations to cover hazardous substances, this particular act is central to the protection of the workforce from solvent exposure. We will now take a look at the various types of solvents on the market and how they may impact your health.
What Is A Solvent?
While many of us will relate solvents to glue, in simple terms they are chemical products which are used to dissolve or dilute other substances. They are used in a variety of different industries such as:
- Paint manufacture
- Ink manufacture
To give you a general idea of how commonplace solvents are today, they will also be found in an array of different products such as:
- Paint remover
- Cleaning products
- Paints, lacquers and varnishes
This is just a snapshot of how widely used solvents are both in the workplace and everyday products. There are various ways in which solvents can enter the body including:
- Breathing in fumes/vapours
- Contact with skin
- Swallowing liquid solvents
As a consequence, employers have to be extremely careful when using solvents in the workplace as they can be ingested into the body very quickly and very easily.
Solvent Exposure And Potential Health Implications
While it will depend upon the type of solvent, the strength and the period of exposure, there are a number of short and long-term health implications. Solvent exposure can induce a number of health issues such as:
- Irritation of the eyes
- Irritation of the lungs
- Irritation of the skin
Exposure to high concentrates of solvent can in some circumstances lead to unconsciousness and possible death.
While the above short-term reactions can lead to extreme discomfort, it is the potential impact on a person’s co-ordination which can be more alarming. If you are working with machinery and your co-ordination is impaired to any extent, as a consequence of solvent exposure, this could lead to serious injury or a fatal accident.
Long-Term Issues From Solvent Exposure
Doctors have been able to link an array of more serious long-term health issues with prolonged exposure to high levels of solvent. These include potential brain damage, issues with the central nervous system, fertility problems not to mention kidney and liver failure. A number of solvents in use today are also regarded as carcinogenic which means they have the potential to induce cancer.
So, whether you are looking at the short term issues such as headaches and dizziness or the potential long-term implications including kidney and liver failure, brain damage and cancer, it is imperative that employers ensure the working environment is as safe as possible.
Managing The Use Of Hazardous Substances
Where possible potentially harmful solvents should not be used in the workplace but many play an integral part in working activities and products. As well as the general duty of care all employers have to their employees, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Act ensures that specific actions are taken to negate the danger of exposure to solvents. These include issues such as:
It is imperative that regular risk assessments are undertaken by employers to ensure that those directly using solvents are protected as well as those working in the vicinity. Where possible, as we touched on above, if any other material can be used other than a potentially dangerous solvent substance this should be taken into consideration.
Confirming The Presence Of Solvents
As you will see from the list above, chemical solvents are present in an array of different products and it is vital that an employer is aware of this. They should check for the presence of solvents, whether it can be dispersed into the atmosphere and where possible avoid spray-painting and other similar activities. Obviously, the spraying of a substance which includes a solvent will release extremely small particles of fluid into the air which can be easily ingested into the body.
Solvent Exposure In The Working Environment
The use of solvent-based substances in enclosed areas can be extremely dangerous and employers are obliged to ensure natural ventilation or install their own ventilation systems. It may be as simple as opening doors and windows when the solvent is being used or the introduction of specific ventilation machinery. Any ventilation machinery must be checked on a regular basis to ensure it is in good working order.
Respirator protective equipment should be issued as standard where solvents are present. It is also important that other safety equipment such as goggles, overalls and gloves are supplied. Clothing and safety equipment must be cleaned and maintained in good order to preserve the highest degree of protection for employees. All solvent material should be securely stored with the appropriate warning signs to show the presence of potentially dangerous substances.
If you have been provided with defective or incorrect personal protective equipment and believe this is the reason for your solvent exposure injury more information is available on this page.
Initial And Ongoing Training
Health and safety training is standard practice in any business but where solvents are in use, initial and ongoing training should be provided by employers. Training should cover the potential health implications of solvent exposure, the use of safety equipment and confirmation of procedures which all employees should abide by. In some cases, where an employee has misinterpreted or ignored written procedures regarding the use of solvent substances, this can negate any potential negligence in the event of an injury.
If you believe your solvent exposure injury was caused because of inadequate training this page provides further information.
Proving Negligence In Solvent Exposure Claims
It is the legal duty of any employer to train and guide employees in the use of potentially harmful substances such as solvents. It is this duty of care which tends to be the focal point of the majority of personal injury claims. The claimant must be able to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the employer was negligent by failing to abide by one or more of the legal obligations under the duty of care.
Obtaining Medical Treatment
As with other hazardous materials, exposure to solvents will in some circumstances lead to short-term medical issues while others may take longer to materialise. In the event of feeling unwell after exposure to a solvent material, the victim must obtain the relevant medical treatment as soon as possible. In the vast majority of cases a paramedic/doctor will be able to administer medicines to combat the impact while others may need more prolonged treatment.
There will be instances where long-term exposure to solvents leads to a long-term medical issue, such as liver or kidney problems, and it is vitally important that victims visit their doctor immediately after falling ill. The involvement of paramedics/doctors not only ensures that the relevant diagnosis and treatment is received as soon as possible but also ensures that the circumstances of the injury, diagnosis and treatment received are noted on the patient’s file. In many cases your medical records can prove to be a very strong line of evidence in the event that you pursue a compensation claim.
Lodging A Claim For Solvent Exposure Compensation
In theory there is a three-year window of opportunity for the vast majority of solvent exposure compensation claims but we would strongly recommend lodging your claim as soon as possible. The problem is that the longer you leave your claim the more blurred the events can become which can in some circumstances impact the outcome of a claim. It is therefore sensible to create a timeline of the events which led to your injury/medical condition and where possible provide photographic evidence, witness statements and other literature, such as your employer’s accident book, which may strengthen your case.
Once the information has been collated this should be presented to a personal injury solicitor who will be able to assess the strength of your case. If there is a good chance of success it is likely that you will receive a No Win No Fee offer to take on your compensation claim. This effectively means that legal costs associated with the solvent exposure claim have been negated in exchange for a “success fee”, although you should always ask to know exactly what fee or fees will be charged. The “success fee” will be a maximum 25% share of any compensation award as payment for the risks associated with taking on your case.
Medical related issues such as exposure to hazardous materials can sometimes be complicated with the vast majority of law firms having access to third-party experts who can advise them accordingly. When a solvent exposure compensation claim, and relevant evidence, is lodged with the courts, the defendant will also receive a copy. Where negligence is fairly obvious this would likely lead to an out-of-court settlement to minimise costs payable by the defendant. However, where negligence is contested, or one or more parties are involved, there is every chance this could go in front of the courts.
Types Of Compensation In Solvent Exposure Claims
Any compensation award is split between what are known as general damages and special damages. In regards to general damages, these relate to compensation for factor such as:
• Pain and suffering caused by the solvent exposure
• Life changing injuries
• Mental trauma
The vast majority of general damages are based on Judicial College guidance which takes in similar solvent exposure injuries and compensation awards in the past. This allows the creation of fairly narrow compensation bands for specific injuries and their severity. The courts and insurance companies are not legally obliged to stick with the guidance figures with a degree of discretion commonplace to reflect the specific circumstances of individual cases.
Special damages relate to financial compensation for;
• Loss of earnings because of the solvent exposure
• Future loss of earnings
• Medical expenses
• Future medical expenses
• Adaptions to the home
• Additional transport costs
There is no room for variation/discretion with regards to special damages as they are purely and simply financial compensation for costs incurred because of the solvent exposure injuries and funding for future costs.
If you’ve suffered illness or injury from solvent exposure and would like to discuss lodging a solvent exposure compensation claim please contact us today.