Archive for August, 2016

Toxic Exposure at Rhode Island Worksites

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyEmployees deserve to have a safe work environment. This means they should be able to go to work and feel confident they will not be exposed to anything that could make them sick. Unfortunately, many employees find themselves forced to work in environments where they are breathing in dangerous levels of chemicals, risking chemical burns or vision problems due to chemical exposure, or where they are exposed to chemicals that will absorb through the skin.

Toxic exposure at work can cause a wide range of serious health problems, including respiratory issues like lung cancer, COPD, asbestosis, mesothelioma or black lung disease. Toxic exposure could also cause various types of cancer, blindness, burns and rashes, and a host of other conditions. In some cases, the chemical exposure is fatal.

Because of the serious consequences associated with exposure to toxins in the workplace, employers need to do everything possible to prevent workers from coming into contact with dangerous materials. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules provide insufficient protection for workers and many employers do not make an effort to go beyond minimum compliance rules. This means workers get sick. If an illness is work-related, affected employees should be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Toxic Exposure a Significant Workplace Risk

One reason toxic exposure is a significant risk in workplaces is because OSHA rules on chemicals are very outdated. OSHA sets permissible exposure limits (PELs) for a very limited number of chemicals, but its PEL rules were set all the way back in 1971. In 1989, OSHA tried to make modifications and update the rules, regulating new chemicals and changing the permitted exposure amounts. Unfortunately, in a 1992 case called AFL-CIO vs. OSHA, the 1989 changes were struck down by the court.

The court determined OSHA couldn’t just pass a rule updating all of its PELs and adding new chemicals. Instead, the agency would have to assess the permissible exposure level for each substance individually to make a rule appropriate to that substance. Obviously, this was a significantly greater burden on the agency. The rules reverted back to the 1971 PELs. While OSHA has made some rules since that time, including introducing new silica regulations, OSHA has not been able to make substantial changes to protect workers.

Although OSHA rules do not establish maximum exposure requirements for many of the chemicals that people are exposed to on their jobs, this does not mean that employers shouldn’t try to protect their employees. OSHA has resources available providing information on dangerous chemicals to help employers create a safe environment to prevent illnesses. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

If an employee is exposed to dangerous chemicals at work and gets sick, it can be difficult to make a workers’ compensation claim because sometimes it is hard to trace the source of the illness back to the job-site. Still, workers should make a claim to get the benefits that they deserve.