The Danger of Lyme Disease in the Workplace

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The Law Of... safeguarding outdoor workers

The Irish Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned of the risks from Lyme disease faced by people undertaking outdoor activities. Adrian Fawden, a Simpson Millar Partner specialising in Personal Injury, examines what this debilitating illness is and what it means for businesses that operate in potentially high-risk areas.

The Danger of Lyme Disease in the Workplace

On those rare occasions we get some decent weather here in the UK, the natural instinct is to get outside and soak up the evasive sunshine before it retreats behind the clouds and the status quo resumes. But there's a diminutive danger lurking in the tall grass, one which, if not caught early, can bring long-term misery to anybody unfortunate enough to fall victim. The danger is borne on 8 legs and goes by the name of Lyme disease.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease – also known as Lyme borreliosis – is a bacterial infection passed onto humans via tick bites. It has been referred to as a 'ticking time bomb', due to the length of time it can sometimes take those affected to develop full-blown symptoms, and also as one of the fastest growing diseases in the western world.

The tick, a minute spider-like creature, feeds on the blood of mammals and attaches itself to a host, where it stays until it is either removed or becomes engorged to the point of releasing itself. The longer the tick remains feeding, the more chance there is of it passing the Lyme disease bacteria onto a human, which makes a quick removal important.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • A rash, often in a bullseye formation, which blossoms around the bite 3 to 30 days after infection
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, increased temperature and muscle pain.

Not everybody develops such symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose early on. However, at this stage it can be cured quite easily with a course of antibiotics.

If Lyme disease is left untreated, then more serious symptoms can develop anything from several weeks to several years down the line. These include:

  • Painful and swollen joints
  • Neurological disorders, such as numbness and facial paralysis
  • Inability to concentrate and memory problems
  • Heart disease and failure
  • Meningitis.

Pain throughout the body, similar to Fibromyalgia, and persistent fatigue along the lines of ME, are known to be long-term problems caused as a result of Lyme disease.

Protecting the Workforce against Lyme Disease

The very real danger that infection from a tick presents means it is important that people are made aware of how to safeguard themselves and what to do in the event of a bite.

The HSE issuing a warning is a step in the right direction, but businesses that operate in high-risk areas such as fields, woodland and parks with deer, along with outdoor organisations such as the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK, also have a responsibility to ensure the safety of employees and members.

Adrian Fawden comments:

"An employer has a duty of care to the workforce and needs to ensure all reasonable steps are taken to guarantee their health, safety, and wellbeing. This applies to everybody, whether working indoors or out."

"Where Lyme disease is concerned, and particularly for those working outdoors in rural areas where there is a distinct threat, an employer should perform a detailed risk assessment to ascertain whether any specialist training is required, along with protective equipment, to limit the possibility of exposure to infection. Making the workforce aware of the disease and its causes, along with explaining what to avoid and providing instruction on the correct way to remove ticks, is also very important."

"The Scouting Association and Girlguiding UK, who organise outdoor camping trips for children and young adults, are generally well informed when it comes to protecting their charges against Lyme disease; insisting parents supply insect repellent and highlighting the dangers present in the countryside."

"Unfortunately, not all employers show the same level of concern as the Cubs and Guides. This means if an employee was to contract this disease as a result of their work and it was shown that there was a failing to sufficiently safeguard them from the risk of infection, they may be able to bring a personal injury claim against the employer."

Further information about Lyme disease is available from Public Health England.


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