Possible link between football and dementia show impact of industrial diseases

The possible link between football and dementia has been in the headlines again in recent days, with the news that the Scottish FA is considering putting a ban in place on under-12s heading the ball in football training.

Of course, this has been an issue for some time now. For example, Dawn Astle, the daughter of former West Brom striker and England international Jeff Astle, has campaigned tirelessly since his death in 2002 following a battle with dementia.

How football could be causing industrial diseases

The University of Glasgow also announced the findings of a study last year which showed that professional footballers are five times more likely to develop forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, than the rest of society.

Jeff Astle Gates
The Jeff Astle Gates at West Brom’s home ground, The Hawthorns.

Furthermore, the study by the University’s Brain Injury Group found that footballers are also four times more likely to develop motor neurone disease and twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.

Following the University of Glasgow’s findings, the University of East Anglia (UEA) will now be starting its own research project into the brain health of former footballers.

What particularly piqued our interest when considering these studies and the work that Dawn Astle has done since her father’s death is that, when ruling on the cause of Mr Astle’s death, the coroner recorded the death as being caused by ‘industrial disease’, says the following in his official ruling;

“Jeff Astle was a top footballer who was known for heading the ball … The trauma caused to the front of his brain is likely to have had a considerable effect on the cause of death.”

How clubs and The FA could be liable

A professional footballer is by definition someone who works for the football club they play for. As part of this employment, the worker is required to perfect their use of a piece of equipment – the football. This includes their ability to control and direct the piece of equipment with their head. As the University of Glasgow study, along with the coroner’s verdict into the cause of Mr Astle’s death, demonstrates though, there is a strong argument growing that this requirement is playing a significant role in these workers developing brain injuries compared to the rest of the general population.

Therefore, an argument could be made that, by requiring players to perfect the use of a piece of equipment that has arguably been shown to significantly increased the chances of their staff developing brain injuries later in life, football clubs and The Football Association (The FA) have failed to protect the health, safety and well-being of its workers per its obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act and other legislation related to the working environment.

It may be the case then that these studies and their findings lead to former players and their families making claims against their former clubs, along with bodies like The FA, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the Premier League and The English Football League, for causing them to sustain a head injury due to the nature of the work. This argument is made stronger by the fact that, prior to the corner’s ruling into Mr Astle’s death, the PFA and the FA began joint research in 2001 which, over a 10-year period, would study the impact heading a football on the brain. Therefore, it could be said that both The FA and The PFA knew that heading a football could have an adverse effect on the brains of players. However, they did not take any precautionary measures while the possible link was being investigated.

If the findings of the UEA study support the findings of the University of Glasgow’s Brain Injury Group then, this could potentially put The FA and the PFA in a tricky spot for not taking action sooner when their commissioning of joint research in 2001 shows that they knew there could be an issue.

This also applies to all employers

The same is true of any employer – if an employer knows that there is a potential risk of a piece of equipment its employees are required to use causing any kind of industrial disease, but nothing is done to protect the employees from the potential of harm, that employer is liable if any of its employees then develops an industrial disease later in life.

Industrial diseases that affect the brain are particularly life-changing and can have a dramatic effect on both the sufferer. For example, prior to his health declining, Jeff Astle had made regular appearances on the BBC show Fantasy Football League due to his status as a cult footballing hero for West Brom; the club supported by the show’s co-presenter, Frank Skinner. However, this was not possible once Mr Astle became ill, as he was unable to look after himself and needed to be cared for, and so, could not continue with his post-footballing career running an industrial cleaning business and making media appearances, meaning that he also suffered loss of earnings as well as a loss in his quality of life.

Why this is relevant to you

The same is sadly true for many others who have sustained a head injury or who have a disease which affects the brain, such as dementia or motor neurone disease.

In turn, the injury or disease can also adversely affect those close to them suffering too. For example, family members often cannot afford the cost of around-the-clock care and so, instead have to take on the role of carer themselves. This can then lead to family members also suffering a loss of earnings too.

Therefore, when claims are brought against employers due to head injuries and industrial diseases affecting the brain that were a result of negligent working practices, the level of compensation awarded can be significant as it needs to take into account the physical, psychological and financial cost the injury or disease has caused in the form of General and Special Damages. This will include the cost to the sufferer’s family too.

How we can help

At The Compensation Experts, we work with specialist legal firms who have a proven track record in making successful head injury and industrial disease compensation claims. We and the legal firms we work with have a lot of experience in these cases and so, are well-placed to help you get the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to. After your initial consultation with our advisors, which is done on a free no-obligation basis, we will match you with the firm who best suits the circumstances of your case.

If you decided to progress your claim, your solicitor will collect any evidence and may contact any witnesses to help build the strongest possible case to support your claim. This evidence will be used not only to prove your entitlement to compensation but also to show the extent of your physical, emotional and financial suffering to ensure the amount you receive is fair.

With the right legal support, the vast majority of industrial compensation claims are resolved without the need to go to court, saving you both money and time. If your employer refuses to accept liability or you can’t agree on an acceptable amount of compensation, the solicitor may recommend you submit your claim to court. This action needs to be taken within three years of the date of the injury being suffered or when your symptoms were linked to your job. Negotiations will continue even when a court date has been set, and it is not uncommon for an agreement to be reached hours before a claim is due to be heard in court.

If you or a family member have suffered a head injury at work or believe that a disease affecting the brain has developed due to the working environment you or your family member was in, you may be entitled to compensation.

Do not hesitate then to get in touch with us via the contact form on our website or by calling 0161 413 8765.