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Employers warned of dangers of hazardous substances

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Employers need to be more aware of the serious workplace risk presented by hazardous chemicals, North West law firm Mace & Jones has warned.

Jeremy Bradshaw, head of personal injury at Mace & Jones, said a report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has found an alarming number of workplace deaths and injuries caused by hazardous substances. Even more concerning, these are not confined to the chemical production industry. Nanotechnology has the potential to create many new materials and devices with wide-ranging applications, such as in medicine, electronics and energy production.

"Many industries have to work with potentially dangerous chemicals, including developing sectors such as nanotechnology," he said. "Frequently, companies do not give due consideration to these risks."

Bradshaw said the report has found hazardous substances account for ten times more deaths than workplace accidents and can also contribute to allergies, asthma, infertility and cancer.

"Across Europe, as much as 15% of the workforce are working with chemicals for over a quarter of their day, so these risks are substantial and widespread," he added.

"The UK has stringent controls in place that mean employers are required to identify, assess and either eliminate or reduce risk to as low as is reasonably practical. If companies are not aware of the extent of the risks and their own responsibilities, they are potentially vulnerable to a claim for compensation. In the case of serious injuries, this can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, and impact heavily on employer liability insurance premiums."

Bradshaw continued: "In addition, it is now possible, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, for a senior office holder of a company to be personally prosecuted if it can be shown that the death of an employee was caused by a breach of health and safety law by a company and that the breach was committed with the consent or connivance of, or following any negligent act of that senior office holder.

"The first trial of a prosecution under this Act is to take place early next year. The warning is clear to senior managers – make sure health and safety law is complied with or face the consequences!"

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