06 December, 2021
With the World Health Organisation designating the Covid 19 variant B.1.529, named Omicron, a variant of concern on 26th November 2021 safety measures in relation to preventing the spread of this variant have begun to be implemented. Attention again turns to the world of work and the argument that Covid 19 and in particular Long Covid should be classed as an occupational disease for which compensation can be claimed.
A person is considered to be suffering from Long Covid when their symptoms have persisted for over 4 weeks and those symptoms have an impact on their everyday functioning. The symptoms of Long Covid are wide-ranging and evolving as the virus evolves but include fatigue, muscle weakness and breathlessness which can lead to an inability to be able to work.
Epidemiological studies show that the occupations with the highest incidences of contracting Covid 19 are those who have been termed as key workers in particular health and social workers, transport workers and teachers.
Currently, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark all formally recognise Covid as an occupational disease. In England, Layla Moran of the Liberal Democrats is chairing an all-party parliamentary group on the Coronavirus. Part of the remit of this group of MPS is to consider whether long Covid should be classed as an occupational disease and discussions are ongoing. In addition to this, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Committee are considering whether Covid/Long Covid should be added to the 70 plus prescribed diseases for which it is possible to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit which is a benefit that can be applied for from the Department of Work and Pensions if a person becomes ill or disabled because of contracting a disease at work or on an approved employment training scheme or course.
Claimant solicitors are also investigating bringing claims for compensation through the courts for those suffering from Long Covid who believe they contracted the Coronavirus whilst at work. Those claims could potentially arise if there is a lack of or inadequate risk assessments or infection controls, a failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment and an outbreak of cases in the establishment but the employer failed to adopt a regime or take other steps to keep the workplace safe. It will be interesting to see how these claims are presented and developed given the widespread of the disease and the difficulty in proving where it was contracted.
Other considerations arise in respect of causation and quantum. Whilst some of those developing Long Covid are fit and well prior to contracting the disease others will inevitably have comorbid conditions and will need to be medically assessed. When considering quantum, an addition will need to be made to the J C guidelines to cover the potential general damages bracket for such claims and any financial losses through inability to work will need to be assessed via documentary evidence.
It certainly seems likely that given the devastating impact of Covid 19, Long Covid will be classified as an occupational disease in due course and it will be interesting to see how these claims are presented and develop.
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