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You have a right to be protected from the risk of injury or illness at work. If your job brings you into contact with oil, petrol, grease and other chemicals, your employer must take steps to ensure you don’t develop dermatitis or other skin conditions. If they fail to do so, it’s possible to bring a claim against them.
Occupational contact dermatitis is caused by contact with substances that irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. It’s not contagious, but if untreated it may spread to other parts of the body, so getting early treatment is essential.
It usually occurs where the irritant touches the skin directly, but this is not always the case. It can affect any part of the body but most commonly affects the hands. There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis can occur quickly through direct contact with strong irritants or longer periods of repeated exposure to weaker irritants. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the sufferer develops an allergy to a substance. Once sensitised, that susceptibility means any contact with the substance, no matter how brief, will cause dermatitis.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, which implement the EU Chemical Agents Directive, require employers to prevent or control an employee’s exposure to such hazardous substances. This could mean providing protective equipment such as boots, masks, overalls or gloves, which in some cases would have to be latex-free.
If your employer has not complied with the relevant health and safety regulations and has not taken these precautions, should you suffer dermatitis as a direct consequence of their negligence you may be able to claim compensation.
Dermatitis government help and benefits
Dermatitis is a reportable disease under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) which requires employers and self-employed people to report cases of occupational diseases linked with exposure at work to specified hazards.
Dermatitis is also one of the ‘prescribed diseases’ that qualifies for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). This is a weekly payment made to people who are suffering from certain diseases listed in regulations issued by the Secretary of State. IIDB covers more than 70 illnesses, but you can’t claim if you were self-employed.
You can get more information about what you may be entitled to and how to claim IIDB by calling the Department for Work and Pensions Benefit Enquiry Line on 0800 882 200 or visiting the gov.uk website.
Benefit entitlement starts from the date you contacted the DWP, not the date you contracted the disease or got a diagnosis, so it's important not to delay calling them.
The British Association of Dermatologists have their own website with useful information and the National Eczema Society can also provide more information about the condition and help you locate support groups throughout the UK.
How do I make a dermatitis claim
There are time limits to making these claims (usually three years) so it’s best if we speak immediately after your confirmed diagnosis so we can advise you of your options.
These claims can be complex and demanding and it's important that your legal team specialise in this work and have good, established, relationships with the appropriate medical and other experts whose evidence will be crucial to your recovery and your claim.
It is sometimes possible to get legal advice through your trades union, which may have arrangements in place with a specified panel solicitor. You are not obliged to use the firm proposed and can ask any law firm to represent you in these cases.
Access Legal must be able to show that your condition was due to exposure to substances at work which would foreseeably cause dermatitis. We must then prove, on the balance of probabilities, that it was negiligence or non-compliance with the relevant regulations, on the part of your employer that directly lead to the condition.
If you feel you may have a case, call us for a free initial consultation. Our priority will always be your health and well-being. We can give you the benefit of our experience in such claims as well as an objective assessment of the likely success of your claim.
If I have a dermatitis case
The most important consideration is your health, so before considering a claim for compensation you should see your GP. Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose contact dermatitis from the appearance of your skin and by asking about your symptoms, when they first appeared and what substances you have been in contact with.
This will not only suggest the correct treatment you need, but will also help identify the cause, which if proven to be due to your work will mean we have a firm basis for taking action against your employer.
Your employer has a legal duty of care to ensure they provide a safe working environment and to carry out regular risk and safety assessments. The COSHH regulations in particular require an employer to provide protective equipment and clothing if necessary. Of course, employees also have a duty to use that equipment.
If we prove that more likely than not it was your employer’s failure to comply with regulations and neglect of their duty to protect you in the workplace that directly caused your illness, you will be well placed to make a successful dermatitis claim.
Access Legal understands that the cost of legal advice can be a worry, but if you do have a claim there are funding options, such as no-win-no-fee, available. We will always find a way to help that best suits your individual needs and can ensure that any compensation awarded does not affect your continuing entitlement to means tested state benefits.
More about dermatitis claims
Anyone involved in any sort of work using detergents and solvents is at risk from irritant contact dermatitis, as are those working regularly with oils and greases. Allergic contact dermatitis is most commonly found in people who work with some hair dyes, wet cement, printing inks and adhesives as well as certain foodstuffs (e.g. shellfish or flour).
Those irritants need not be inherently toxic. Some plants or abrasive materials, as well as repeated and prolonged contact with plain water (e.g. having wet hands for more than two hours per shift) can cause irritant dermatitis.
Avoiding the irritants or allergens that cause contact dermatitis usually clears up the condition. However, this isn't always possible, especially if contact with the substances forms part of your work. Treatment involving emollients and corticosteroid medicines for symptoms such as redness, inflammation, dryness, itching or a burning sensation may be required.
Most people with contact dermatitis can expect their symptoms to improve after treatment, but some may experience complications such as infection which could affect your ability to work and your quality of life on a long term basis.
If you are affected by occupational dermatitis, you could make a dermatitis claim. If successful, this would at least provide you with compensation to pay for treatments and therapies you need to manage the condition and better protect your skin and hands in future.
I joined Access Legal Solicitors in 2008 as head of the personal injury team in Birmingham and was made a partner in 2011. I have been undertaking personal injury work for over 20 years, specialising in industrial disease claims. I only act for the victims of industrial diseases and accidents.View full profile
'Access Legal Solicitors got me the rehab I needed and really helped with my family. They were fantastic throughout.'
We have a wealth of experience dealing with complex military claims including where clients have been injured during the course of service or have experience undue suffering because of a breach of care. We also help families of military personnel prepare for inquests.Why Access Legal Solicitors