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McGhee v National Coal Board [1973] 1 WLR 1 House of Lords

The claimant worked at the defendant's brick works. His normal duties did not expose him to much dust but he was then asked to work on the brick kilns in a hot a dusty environment. The defendant was in breach of duty in not providing washing and showering facilities. The claimant thus had to cycle home still covered in the brick dust. The claimant contracted dermatitis. There were two possible causes: the brick dust he was exposed to during the course of his employment which was not attributable to a breach of duty and the brick dust he was exposed to on his journey home which was attributable to a breach. The defendant sought to distinguish Wardlaw's case by arguing that it was proved that every particle of dust inhaled played its part in causing the onset of the disease whereas in this case it is not proved that every minor abrasion played its part.


The claimant only had to demonstrate that the dust attributable to the breach of duty materially increased the risk of him contract dermatitis.

Lord Salmon:
My Lords, I would suggest that the true view is that, as a rule, when it is proved, on a balance of probabilities, that an employer has been negligent and that his negligence has materially increased the risk of his employee contracting an industrial disease, then he is liable in damages to that employee if he contracts the disease notwithstanding that the employer is not responsible for other factors which have materially contributed to the disease.
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