Occupational Asthma

Occupational asthma refers to asthma (whether a new diagnosis or recurrence of previously dormant asthma) caused by exposure to an agent at the workplace. Exposure to an agent at work may also exacerbate an existing asthma condition. The agent may be a chemical, plant or animal organism, metal or wood dust, chemical or irritant such as a irritant gas, aerosol, vapor or smoke. Where a person has an exposure to a high concentration of an irritant they may develop an acute reaction including reactive airways dysfunction syndrome.

The occupations most at risk include handlers (e.g. acrylate), animal handlers and veterinarians (animal proteins), bakers and millers (cereal grains), carpet makers (gums), electronics workers (soldering resin), forest workers, carpenters and cabinetmakers (wood dust), hairdressers (e.g. persulfate), health care workers (latex and chemicals such as glutaraldehyde ), cleaners (e.g. chloramine-T), pharmaceutical workers (drugs, enzymes), seafood processors, shellac handlers (e.g. amines), solderers and refiners (metals), spray painters, insulation installers, plastics and foam industry workers (e.g. diisocyanates), textile workers (dyes) and users of plastics and epoxy resins.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough, sputum production and wheezing. Some patients may also develop upper airway symptoms such as itchy eyes, tearing, sneezing, nasal congestion and runny nose.

In New South Wales, compensation rights for persons with occupational asthma vary depending on whether the causal agent is a dust that causes a dust disease as defined in Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation (Dust Diseases) Act 1942 (NSW). If the causal agent is such a dust then you may have both a right to make a claim at common law and a claim for statutory entitlements with the Dust Diseases Authority. If the causal agent is not such a , then your rights are rights are determined under the relevant workers’ compensation legislation.

Common Law Claim For Damages

If you are suffering from occupational asthma caused by dust then you can bring a claim at common law in New South Wales in the Dust Diseases Tribunal (DDT). The DDT is a specialist court that was established in 1989 to hear claims for persons suffering from dust diseases . The Court has special procedures and rules of evidence to expedite claims.

Most claims are brought against former employers, manufacturers of products and occupiers of buildings. If your former employer no longer exists, you can still sue if you can determine the workers’ compensation insurer of the company.

If you are successful in your claim you will be awarded lump sum compensation to compensate you for your pain and suffering, loss of expectation of life, medical and other expenses (if you are not covered by the Dust Diseases Authority- see below), the commercial cost of gratuitous care provided by your friends and family, loss of earnings and superannuation if you were working at the time you experienced symptoms and in some cases the commercial cost of replacing services you provided to others such as young children or a sick or elderly child, spouse or parent. The amount of monies awarded will depend on the circumstances of your claim including your age, the period of time you have suffered disability, your level of disability and your prognosis.

In dust related occupational asthma claims we act on a full no win no fee basis which means we will not be paid unless you win your claim. More information about our fees is set out on our fee policy page.

Dust Diseases Authority (DDA)

Although occupational asthma is not a Schedule 1 disease, if the causal agent is a dust that causes a Schedule 1 disease (e.g metal dust) then you a may have a right to claim a pension and have all your medical, hospital, pharmaceutical, nursing and nursing aids and equipment costs paid. The DDA will also pay for travel expenses and assistance required around your home and garden.

An application to the DDA is in addition to your common law claim.  You can (and most people do) both, although where there is a DDA award you cannot claim in your court proceedings for out of pocket expenses which will be covered by the DDA.

An application to the DDA is an administrative process. You complete an application form and sign authorities to allow the DDA to obtain access to your medical records. The DDA will arrange for you to undergo a medical examination including an x-ray and lung function test. The results of your examination will be placed before a Medical Panel which consists of 3 respiratory physicians. If the Medical Panel believes you are suffering from a dust disease it will request an industrial history be obtained. This process involves you being contacted by an industrial history officer who will take a work history and discuss your exposure to dust. You will be then sent an industrial history statement to proof and sign. Your industrial history will be placed before the Medical Panel who will then determine your level of disability. If the Medical Panel certifies you are suffering from a dust disease causing a disability the CEO will grant you a fortnightly pension. The pension is not means tested. The amount of your pension will depend on your level of disability. The DDA will continue to monitor your condition and organise for you to be re-examined every 1 to 3 years. If your level of disability increases, then your pension will also increase. It generally takes 6 to 12 weeks for your application to be processed.

In addition to your rights with the DDA, if you die as a result of your dust disease a dependant partner or child has rights to a lump sum payment (the amount of the lump sum depends on the level of dependency) and an ongoing pension. Your estate can also claim funeral expenses up to $9,000.00.

We can assist you to complete a DDA application form and guide you through the application process.

Other Dust Diseases

Exposure to dusts can cause a wide variety of diseases including pneumoconiosis, farmers’ lung, berylliosis and bagassosis.  If you have developed a dust disease you may have rights to claim at common law and for statutory benefits with the Dust Diseases Authority. We will sit with you and take a detailed work history. We will then obtain your medical records and if necessary organise an appointment with a medical specialist before giving you advice on your rights to make a claim.

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