What is an Industrial Disease?

Posted on: 4 mins read
Kirstie Bork

Senior Associate Solicitor - Advocate, Industrial Disease

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An industrial disease, also known as an occupational disease, is any chronic illness or disease that is caused by a person’s working conditions, such as:

An industrial disease may be caused by exposure to a harmful substance (such as asbestos), loud noises or by repetitive actions carried out as part of a job, and have a serious long-term impact on a person’s life.

However, people who have developed health problems as a result of their work could be entitled to compensation if it can be proven that their employer was negligent and failed to keep them free from risk. Our Industrial Disease Solicitors are specialists in helping people with industrial diseases secure compensation, so they can get the justice they deserve and get the rehabilitation support they need.

Work related diseases account for a significant number of industrial disease claims made against employers’ insurers every year in the UK. In most cases, the compensation is paid out by the employers’ insurers even if the employer went out of business years ago.

For a free consultation and legal advice get in touch with our Industrial Disease Solicitors – ask if we can deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis.

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Examples of Industrial Diseases

The most common industrial disease and illnesses in the UK are:


Asbestosis is a chronic disease caused by a person breathing asbestos dust and fibres into their lungs. Traces of the substance can get lodged inside the lungs and cause scarring, which can lead to a person’s lungs shrinking and hardening. This in turn causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, persistent coughing and tiredness or fatigue.

Asbestosis is usually associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos in the workplace over a lengthy period of time, or very high-volume exposure to asbestos over a few years.


Mesothelioma is a cancer that can develop following exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma can take decades to develop, and is most common among people who have worked with asbestos materials in industries such as construction, ship building and aircraft manufacturing.

Relatives of people who have worked in these industries have also been known to develop mesothelioma, as they have been exposed to asbestos fibres when their family comes home wearing clothing contaminated with asbestos dust.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Many people are continuously exposed to loud noises at work without being given adequate hearing protection, in particular those who work in call centres, construction and manufacturing. This can cause permanent damage to their hearing, which may not become apparent until many years later.

A short sharp exposure to noise, such as an explosion, can also damage the internal structure of a person’s ears, leading to a degree of deafness or tinnitus – a persistent ringing in the ears without any external cause.

Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) usually affects the wrists, hands, shoulders and elbows, and is the result of repetitive movements and the overuse of certain muscles, nerves and tendons in the upper body. As a result, using affected parts of the body can be particularly painful.

Occupational Asthma

Occupational asthma is usually the result of exposure to certain airborne substances over a prolonged period of time, or the exacerbation of a condition that already exists. Occupational asthma may be caused by a person having an allergic reaction to allergens or irritants, such as certain chemicals, in the workplace.

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

A person who regularly works with vibrating tools such as a pneumatic drill, chainsaw or concrete breaker can suffer nerve damage and have impaired blood circulation in the fingers. Known as Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome, or HAVS for short, the condition can manifest itself through symptoms such as a tingling sensation and numbness in the fingers.

A person with HAVS may also have problems with their grip, strength and dexterity, and their fingers may go white in the cold. Continued use of vibrating work tools can make these symptoms worse, and a person with HAVS could go on to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects movement and sensation in the hands.

What Should Employers Do to Prevent Industrial Diseases?

The nature of your job very much dictates what type of work related disease or illness you are most susceptible to. However, an employer’s responsibilities remain the same in each case.

Under UK health and safety laws, employers are required to take all reasonable measures to protect you from hazards whilst you are performing your everyday duties at work. For instance, your employers should provide personal protective equipment if you are routinely exposed to harmful substances or loud noises at work.

Employers must also ensure members of staff are aware of potential risks in the workplace and provide training and information on appropriate actions and precautions to take. Furthermore, risk assessments should be carried out regularly, so work processes can be continuously improved to reduce an employee’s chances of coming to harm.

If your employer hasn’t fully assessed potential risks in the workplace and taken steps to keep you safe, they could be deemed negligent in the eyes of the law. So if you’ve been diagnosed with an industrial disease as a result of this negligence, you could be entitled to compensation.

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