Dinner ladies and dermatitis/COSHH swimming pool cases

The claimant had worked for nearly 20 years as a dinner lady without any skin problems after washing up. In November 1999 the school changed its washing up liquid. The new brand, Crystal, was stated to be a potential irritant to the skin both in concentrate and when diluted.

For some reason, the employer issued a simplified version of this information mentioning only that it was an irritant when concentrated. The claimant continued to do the “big wash”– 30-45 minutes at the sink after lunch – and within about six months had a dryness of the skin. It was only nine months later that she realised through her GP that there may be an association with her work.

Various ineffective steps were then taken in consultation with occupational health, such as providing gauntlet gloves which still allowed water and the solution to seep in from time to time.

Shortly before trial, the claimant had dropped any allegation of breaches of COSHH and CHIP 2 Regulations and the absolute duty arising under Regulation 7. However she succeeded at trial on the following points:

The defendant was vicariously liable for not properly telling the claimant that she should report all skin conditions. The cook in charge should have passed this information on. That would have allowed them to deal with the problem at its outset.

The defendants should have had a proper hand surveillance procedures to observe the skin condition.

Having drawn attention to her condition, she should have been taken off the “big wash” in which further exposure to the Crystal solution was inevitable, regardless of the provision of gauntlet gloves. There was bound to be a drop or two that seeped in and sweating hands and arms would make matters even worse.

There were no breaches of the various pleaded Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations as the equipment was suitable (it needed not be perfect) for the job.

In short the defendant should have had systems to deal with the possible injury at a much earlier stage to pick it up and control and reduce it by removing her from exposure to the long wash, accepting that she would still have to do occasional brief washing up in her job .

There were damages of £8,000.

Needham -v- Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, Sheffield County Court, 28 April 2005, Recorder FG Burrell QC

Sheffield Swimming Pools and Chlorine

Thompsons' Middlesbrough office had a good settlement for a swimming pool teacher who experienced respiratory problems through chlorine gas in a pool where there was limited ventilation and/or inadequate extraction facilities and where the regulators controlling the quantity of chlorine did not work efficiently.

She suffered a loss of voice and the defendant admitted liability a few weeks before trial for a breach of COSHH 1999 regulations causing an imbalance of chlorine at the pool.

The claimant received £15,000.