Diesel fumes – is it time for workers to make claims?

Media reports linking exposure to diesel fumes at work may have huge implications for many thousands of workers.

Howard Bonnett considers if, some 20 years after coalminers won compensation for chest disease, is now the time is now for others to claim compensation?

Corries Solicitors have noted recent potential claims against employers for compensation. Two recent cases involve workers exposed to diesel fumes in a depot and a second worker in a leaky tractor cab. Both are seeking damages.

The current legal position

Corries Solicitors Ltd have noted these recent potential claims.

An employer has a duty to protect a worker against exposure to dangerous dust, fibres or chemicals. There is a large amount health and safety law in place. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) place a clear legal duty for employers to prevent exposure to substances that can cause health problems. This can include diesel fumes.

Anyone working in a busy town or city knows the smell and affect of diesel fumes from vehicles. Hence those who work in this environment (either at a depot or on the road) know those risks are real. For some they may cause minor or even life changing disease.

Medical diseases

At Corries we see a wide range of symptoms which may be due to people working in such conditions. Symptoms like eye irritation, coughs, sneezing, dribbling nose and headaches can be all too common. Connecting them to people’s work is often missed.

Serious chest conditions can be caused by exposure to dust and fumes. Some 20 years ago the largest UK litigation at the time involved former British Coal workers fighting for compensation for COPD. A trial lasting over a year ended in compensation for hundred of thousands of former miners for bronchitis and emphysema and COPD.

Of course many people are diagnosed with COPD, emphysema and bronchitis every year. Many have no exposure to dust or fumes. Many are diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) where no obvious cause is found.

Other dust and agents are known to cause COPD. If someone smokes this can make diagnosis more difficult.

diesel fumes

Diesel fumes are often under media scrutiny


Asthma is a disease which can occur following exposure to dust and fumes. There can be triggering of the airwaves which triggers off asthma attacks. People can be “switched” on to asthma for life.

Benefits can be paid if your asthma is triggered by a list of agents – see the link here. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-injuries-disablement-benefits-technical-guidance/industrial-injuries-disablement-benefits-technical-guidance#appendix-1-list-of-diseases-covered-by-industrial-injuries-disablement-benefit

Connecting asthma to diesel fumes may be hard.

Ongoing developments

It is of interest that Parcelforce, part of the Royal Mail Group Limited are being sued for negligence. The case against them is most noteworthy as it alleges breaching health and safety regulations such as the COSHH regulations.

Christchurch council are being sued by a tractor driver who worked in a leaky cab. Toxic carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide fumes seeped in and caused him harm.

The progress of these cases is awaited with interest.

Legal comment

Corries Director and Industrial disease specialist solicitor Howard Bonnett commented

“It is clear that levels of dust and fumes in busy towns and cities are higher. That workers who travel for long periods are suffering is no surprise. Therefore proving that those employees are being made ill due to their work needs to be investigated in the courts. This is an important issue. It could affect many thousands of workers throughout the UK each year.

Therefore workers who are out on the road or work in places such as garages or bus depots, ferries or warehouses could all be at risk. There can be poorly maintained or even new diesel engines spewing out dust fumes and particulates.

The miners won their cases after a long battle 20 years ago – I wonder if now a new battle affecting many more workers is on the horizon?”

Have you or a family member have been affected by exposure to dust chemicals or fumes? If you have been diagnosed in last three years then call our specialist team on 0800 083 7839 to see if we can help you.