Here’s a new example of changes in science causing changes in law. An article here reports the Danish government has now paid industrial compensation to some 40 women for incidents of breast cancer when they had 20-30 year careers working night shifts. The article includes a UK defense lawyer at Eversheds warning that studies by IARC and the Danish decision may put UK employer’s on notice of the risk. Here are key excerpts:

“Are workers at risk of developing cancer because of their shift patterns? That is the question that will be troubling UK employers now a UN study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that working night shifts raises the risk of breast cancer.
The UN study found in particular that nurses and flight attendants involved in night-shift working over a period of 30 years had an increased incidence of breast cancer.

The study is not definitive – for one thing, it only looked at a limited number of occupations – and the IARC itself has called for further research. However, the Danish government has been sufficiently concerned to recognise as an industrial injury breast cancer developed after night-shift work. That finding cleared the way for compensation payments to approximately 40 women who had worked night shifts for some 20-30 years where there was no other significant factor to explain the development of the cancer.

But even though employers may not yet have the full picture, the courts have decided that it is only necessary to know that some harm is foreseeable to its workers – not the exact type of harm.

The HSE has issued no guidance in this country, and its own research into the potential link is not expected until 2011, but that is not a complete defence when an EU government is already paying out on such claims. Employers cannot ignore this research when assessing the risks to which they expose their workforce. Employers who have made such assessments and given warnings are in a better position to ward off claims.”