A round up of recent news relating to pleural plaques, vibration claims, the Asbestos Regulations and skin cancer.

  • Pleural plaques: the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) Bill Northern Ireland, which restores the right to claim compensation for pleural plaques, received Royal Assent on 21 June 2011, following the withdrawal by the Northern Ireland Attorney General of a reference to the Supreme Court. Scotland has already restored the right to pleural plaques compensation, subject to the ongoing challenge to the legality of the legislation brought by a group of insurers, where the judgment of the Supreme Court following the hearing on 13 June 2011 of the appeal against the decision of the Court of Session is awaited. The Northern Ireland Attorney General has intervened in this case. In the meantime, any applications under the scheme put in place by the UK Government for a one-off compensation payment of £5,000 for anyone who started a pleural plaques claim prior to 17 October 2007 must be received by 1 August 2011.
  • Vibration claims: five years after they came into force, the HSE has successfully taken its first prosecution under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 1995. Cheshire East Council pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulations 5 and 6, which require employers to carry out an assessment and eliminate risk at source. The conviction sends a clear warning to employers that a failure to properly manage hand-arm vibration risks carries potential not only for civil claims but also a criminal conviction.
  • Asbestos Regulations: the European Commission has informed the UK that it needs to toughen up key parts of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 because the Asbestos Directive is not being implemented properly. The Commission says that for certain types of work with asbestos, the UK authorities are not properly complying with three clear obligations under the Directive: (1) notifying asbestos work to the responsible national authority, (2) making a prior health assessment for workers and a new assessment every three years as long as exposure to asbestos work continues and (3) keeping a register of the workers who are or may be exposed to asbestos at work. The UK has been given two months to make the necessary changes by the Commission.
  • Skin cancer: the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance on skin cancer for employers and health professionals. It includes a recommendation to assess if there is a risk of harmful exposure to the sun. Where this is the case, employers should develop and implement a suitable policy to ensure people are protected as much as possible. Employers should also ensure policies encourage outdoor workers to wear clothing to avoid getting sunburnt. Employers will need to consider this guidance, as a failure to do so may leave them vulnerable to skin cancer claims in the future.