Employers’ Duty of Care in Cases of Occupational Asthma – Providing Salbutamol Inhalers Under ‘Laurens Law’

In February 2020, Lauren Reid, a chef from Glasgow, suffered a severe asthma attack in the course of her shift.

Having forgotten her inhaler, the 19-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest. Her heart stopped for a total of 35-minutes, thereafter causing severe brain damage. Later that week, her life support machine was turned off and she passed away.

A petition to the Scottish Parliament has subsequently been launched, seeking a new legal requirement for all work establishments to provide a blue Ventolin inhaler in their first aid kits.

Simultaneously, Ms. Reid’s family have launched ‘Laurens Law’, a supplementary health and safety campaign, which has garnered support from Unichef, the national chefs union.

Essentially, what the petition and overarching campaign hope to achieve is an exemption for the emergency use of prescribed inhalers (salbutamol) in commercial food premises – extending the expectations of a reasonable employer?

Such an exemption was previously instituted for children in school premises, in 2014, when the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 was amended by the UK Government – see the Human Medicines (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2014.[i]

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(from the Explanatory Note to the 2014 Amendment Regulations)

Although the exact trigger of Ms. Reid’s work-related death is still unknown, the ‘Laurens Law’ website states that employees in the catering sector are at an ‘exceptionally high risk’ of occupational asthma. Further, that this ‘very real and increasing’ risk is caused by ‘recognised triggers’, such as ‘flour, fumes, heat, dust, odours, and a lack of fresh air’.

 

[i] Department of Health, ‘Guidance on the use of emergency salbutamol inhalers in schools’ (March 2015 GOV.UK)  <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/416468/emergency_inhalers_in_schools.pdf> accessed 7 April 2021.