Frequently asked questions - Work related Ill-Health

If your employer is based in England, Scotland or Wales and you have a physical or mental disability which is liable to last at least a year, you can contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus to ask about the help available to pay towards reasonable adjustments that enable you to do the job properly.

You need to be over 16 and in paid work, starting a job trial, or self-employed.

If eligible, you will have an assessment with advice which your employer needs to build into the adjustments that are made.

National Access to Work number: 0845 2688489

For West Mids advice on disability issues, ring Disability Resource Centre on 0121 783 6017 or email

The standard UK time limit is 3 years to take up a compensation case for a personal injury claim through a solicitor.

If injured outside the UK, seek immediate advice as time limits may vary.

Effectively, you need to see a solicitor, or take up a claim through your trade union if you're a member, well before the 3 years are up, to give time for it to go to court if needed.

Do join a union before you need to ask them for legal help as most unions have a period of a few weeks or months that must elapse before union members can take up a claim through them.

That's 3 years from the date of an accident or from when you knew your injury or illness was caused by your work e.g. when told by a doctor that was the case. If not sure, do seek a free initial interview with a solicitor, as time limits are not always clear-cut.           

If someone has died, the family has 3 yrs from the date of death, or post mortem, to start a claim if it was not previously confirmed as caused by work,  or to continue an existing claim.

There are no time limits for claiming for an industrial disease through the no-fault Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB)  scheme, but the scheme does not cover every industrial disease or occupation known to cause industrial injuries.

Ring Birmingham Tribunal Unit on 0121 666 7533 or visit for problems with IIDB and other welfare benefits. Some unions and some solicitors can also help their members or clients with these.

Not as such, despite previous campaigning for a law to cover it properly. However, there are some laws which may apply to a particular situation, such as the Prevention of Harassment Act (1977). There are more people included under equality laws than before, and harassment is unlawful for relevant members of groups protected by the Equality Act 2010.

However, looking for a legal solution is not the first step. If there is a trade union with which the employer negotiates in a workplace, taking this issue up with the union is the best starting point to resolve a bullying issue.  

The HSE provides provides some advice to employers on its website, including: " Be aware of the organisational factors that are associated with bullying, and take steps to address them".  However, a high level of organisation against bullying is needed to tackle the issue in many workplaces. For example, in the NHS, it is said that there is a "climate of fear" against whistle-blowing and standing up for other rights. 

Employers are required by law to control the use of chemicals at work.  The law is called the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).  Under COSHH, employers must:

  • Assess risks in the workplace
    • Safety reps should be involved in the assessment and must be informed of results
  • Decide what precautions are needed
    • If risks are identified then action must be taken
  • Prevent exposure or, if not ‘reasonably practicable’, adequately control exposure
    • This could involve changing the process or substance, or introducing engineering controls such as exhaust ventilation
    • Personal protective equipment should be used only as a last resort
  • Ensure control measures are used and monitored
  • Monitor exposure
  • Carry out health surveillance
  • Have plans for dealing with emergencies
  • Ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.  Employees should know:
    • what substances they work with and their hazards
    • results of the risk assessment
    • results of exposure monitoring and health surveillance
    • precautions which should be taken
    • emergency procedures

Further information about COSHH can be found at

Having the involvement of a union safety rep in the COSHH process can make all the difference. These are just some of the things which can happen as a result:

  • a check can be made as to what happens in practice
  • the safety rep can use legal powers e.g. to do inspections, to investigate further
  • talking to people working with substances can reveal a number of things e.g. missed hazards
  • issues like better control measures, safer substitutes, compensation, can be pursued

Thousands of substances are used in workplaces and loads of information is available in books and on the web.  With so much material available, it can be difficult to find relevant information quickly.  A relatively easy way to find key information about a substance is to look at its:

  • Hazard label; and/or
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS);

Hazard Label

If a substance is hazardous, information about the hazards should be shown on the label on its packaging; this is required by law*.  Information about the hazard(s) is presented in the form of symbols (known as pictograms), signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

For example:


Fatal if swallowed

Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product


*The Classification Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation is intended to ensure that the hazards presented by chemicals are clearly communicated to workers and consumers.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

A SDS should be provided by suppliers for most substances that are considered to be harmful; this is required by law*.  The SDS contains information on the hazards of the substance, advice on handling and storage, first aid and accidental release measures, exposure controls and personal protection, and information on transport and disposal.  The SDS also provides information on how to manage risks associated with that substance. 

*The specific law covering SDSs is called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals).  REACH is about controlling harmful chemicals and came into force in the UK in 2007.

Other sources of information

HSE publishes leaflets on a number of substances, such as lead, chromium, arsenic, beryllium and silica

Information on chemicals can also be found in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Classification and Labelling Inventory