Thousands of injured or sick workers who cannot trace employer insurance records could win compensation under proposals

Thousands of people with serious industrial diseases who are currently missing out because they are unable to trace their employers' insurance records should be able to claim compensation, following government proposals announced today.

If a person is injured or made ill through work as a result of the employer's negligence, they would normally claim civil damages from the employer.

But the Department of Work and Pensions said a number of people had been unable to make a claim as they had difficulties tracing their employer's liability insurance policy. This particularly applies to those who suffer industrial diseases with symptoms that have only appeared decades later, when employers may have ceased trading or that kept old insurance records which may have been mislaid.

Now the department has revealed plans in a consultation paper to create an employers' liability tracing office to enable workers to track down their employers' liability insurance policies.

It also wants to create an employers' liability insurance bureau to provide a fund as a last resort for those unable to trace them.

The proposed tracing office will include an electronic database of employers' liability insurance policies, which the DWP claims will make it easier to track down these records and improve the existing tracing service.

The consultation will look at how the tracing office can be best managed and funded. It will also investigate the scope of help that could be provided by an employers liability insurance bureau, the timing of claims and how much compensation could be paid. In addition, it will examine what more employers can do to meet their obligations to maintain employers' liability compulsory insurance.

Lord McKenzie, a minister at the Department of Work and Pensions, said: “Far too many people suffering from serious industrial diseases are unable to trace their insurance polices and get the compensation they deserve.

“That is why we want to set up a better tracing service with a dedicated database to help them track down these policies, and a fund of last resort if all else fails.”

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of union Ucatt, said: “The government's announcement is excellent news and an important step forward. Far too often workers develop life-threatening illnesses because employers have failed to provide adequate protection from harmful substances. If a worker's health is ruined, they deserve compensation, by establishing ELIB, the government will ensure this occurs.”