£226m Monsanto Compensation Case Highlights Importance of Protecting Employees from Harmful Substances

August 21, 2018

More and more cases are hitting the high courts and the mainstream media, where employees are claiming ill health or even terminal illness due to exposure to harmful substances at work. The most recent of these was just a couple of weeks ago, where a groundsman in the US won £226m in damages. The jury concluded that Roundup weed killer was the direct cause of his terminal blood cell cancer and that Monsanto, the product manufacturer – had failed to warn him of the health risk from exposure. You can read more about this story here.

Glyphosate Controversy

This chemical is the world’s most widely used weed killer, and British farmers use of it has increased by 400% in the last 20 years. This particular case has highlighted the potential dangers of the ingredient Glyphosate, which has long been the subject of controversy and confusion, especially when it comes to whether it’s associated with cancer. Worryingly, further findings show traces of the chemical in children’s cereals and also in bread, which in itself has sparked a whole host of questions around the use of chemical sprays on crops and why it is ending up on our plates, however this exposure is not from inhalation and therefore not considered as part of this blog.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, classified Glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, as are a number of substances such as banana powder, wood dust, flour dust, etc. It depends on many factors such as type of exposure and the dose of the exposure. Unsurprisingly this report provoked a huge reaction and many court cases followed swiftly afterwards.

However, that same year, the European Food Safety Authority also evaluated Glyphosate and deemed that it wasn’t likely to pose a cancer threat and the EU relicensed its use for another five years last November (2017).

Monsanto, the company who produce Round Up are insisting that its products are safe and they will be appealing this jury decision.

Safe or Unsafe – Why take the Risk?

There will always be controversy over cases like these, with multiple reports being produced which only serve to confuse people more about the safety of a product. Throw the media in to the mix and you have some even more disturbing and frightening ‘facts’. BUT, whichever way you choose to look at this, as an employer, your overriding commitment and focus needs to be to protect your staff at all costs. You do not want to put any of your workers at risk in any way due to exposure to harmful chemicals, whether they are proven to be dangerous and cancer causing or not.

So, whether your employees are the end users of a potentially dangerous product or they are involved in the process of manufacturing it, you need to take the correct precautions for their peace of mind and your own.

Workplace Hazardous Substances Exposure Limits

Chemicals can come in solid, liquid or gas form and any of these could be hazardous. But they can pose a particular danger as dust or gas, because when they become airborne they can then be inhaled.

Many thousands of substances including chemicals are used in the UK workplace, but only about 500 substances have Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs). The EH40 workplace exposure limits documents will provide the information on those and 60 of the chemical components that make up the ‘pesticides’ section are listed. However, it is important to note that the exposure limit applies to the specific active ingredient in the workplace atmosphere and not the formulation as a whole.

If the hazardous substance that your workers are exposed to has no exposure limit, or it is mixed in a product, you will need to make a toxicity assessment. It will be essential that you make sure you have suitable control measures in place, which may include a regulation-compliant fume extraction system (LEV) to control these substances to not only protect your workers but to ensure you stay compliant with the law. Remember under COSHH Regulation 7 RPE can only be provided in conjuction with other control measures including engineering (or LEV) controls. The mask is the last resort since it fails to fully eliminate danger!

LEV Systems for the Chemicals Industry

Industrial processes which involve chemicals include any of the following; drying, mixing, burning, calcining, spraying and hydrating. The risks posed by such processes include irritation and burns to the skin, a range of respiratory health problems ranging from breathing difficulties to terminal or life-changing illnesses like cancer (as is more than apparent in the case we highlighted above).

At Vent-Tech we are highly experienced in assessing, designing, installing and testing LEV systems for the chemicals industries to keep companies compliant and their workers safe. You can trust us to deliver the correct LEV solution for you as we will always inspect your site and assess the situation. By doing this we are able to fully determine the system you need for your exact situation and the chemicals you are handling.

Can Vent-Tech Help you?

If you think you may need help with control of chemicals or chemical fumes in the workplace, or have an LEV system which you feel may not be adequate, don’t delay in contacting our expert team at Vent-Tech on 0117 964 7945.