A recent case sounds a warning bell for employers who fail to take their responsibilities under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) seriously. It concerned a printer who was exposed to a chemical linked with kidney disease.
David Owenson worked for Polestar Greaves, a printing company in Scarborough, first as a maintenance engineer and later as a printer. During that time he was exposed to a hazardous solvent called toluene, which was used in the ink. Part of his job was to repair the printer and solvent filter bank, which meant that he was often exposed to chemical fumes. These made him feel dizzy and caused his eyes to smart.
In 2000, Mr Owenson began to feel unwell and, after visiting his GP, was referred to a kidney specialist. The specialist advised him that it was safe to continue working with toluene.
A year later however, after consulting lawyers, Mr Owenson saw another kidney specialist who was an expert in damage caused by toluene. This specialist advised him that the exposure to toluene had significantly impaired his kidney function and should be minimised in future.
When a claim was brought against them, Mr Owenson’s employers argued that even though he had periodically been exposed to excessive amounts of toluene, this had not contributed to his kidney disease. Despite this and after a legal battle, they agreed to pay him a substantial undisclosed amount in compensation.
Injuries caused by noxious substances at work are not uncommon. Dangerous fumes can cause a wide variety of diseases including damage to the internal organs, bladder cancer and lung disease.
A brief guide to the COSHH Regulations can be found on the website of the Health and Safety Executive. The HSE also offers a range of free leaflets providing advice and guidance on using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work.