Archive for January, 2020

Jan 2020

More workers are becoming ill due to dust exposure

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorney

Workers who regularly handle building materials such as cement, concrete, and wood are likely exposed to various types of dust. It can come in contact with the skin, get in workers’ eyes and mouth, or be inhaled through the nose.

According to EHS Today, large particles don’t usually make it into the lungs. Smaller particles, however, bypass the natural filtering of our respiratory system. They either build up in the lungs or enter the bloodstream. Dust particles in the lungs and bloodstream can be warded off by naturally-occurring white blood cells, but breathing in high amounts of dust over a long period of time can cause serious and life-threatening health conditions.

What are the common types of workplace dust?

  • Silica: Those who work in construction, mining, glass production, stonecutting, and shingle manufacturing are at risk of inhaling ultrafine silica particles. In fact, silica has been linked to an upsurge of lung diseases that can result in severe, life-long health complications or death.
  • Asbestos: Asbestos is commonly found in building materials such as roofing shingles, tiles, flooring, and cement. Long-term exposure to asbestos can result in shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
  • Flour dust: Culinary and food service workers who handle flour are at risk of breathing in flour dust. Short-term symptoms of breathing in flour dust may include a runny nose, watery eyes, frequent sneezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure can result in asthma.
  • Wood dust: Construction workers, carpenters, or woodworkers are regularly exposed to dust from cutting and sanding wood. Exposure to wood dust can result in difficulty breathing, nose and throat irritation, and dermatitis (skin irritation).

What can employers do to protect workers?

EHS Today outlines several steps employers should take to better protect workers from the harmful effects of dust exposure.

  • Create safety data sheets to outline the hazards of each dust-producing material.
  • Provide details on how to avoid a dust-related hazard, and remove it (if possible).
  • Offer best practice advice for handling hazardous materials.
  • Provide workers with protective equipment and gear (required by law). This can include gloves, goggles, visors, and face masks.
  • Monitor dust levels in the workplace and alert workers when levels become dangerously high.
  • Provide adequate safety training to workers.
  • Close off areas in a facility where high amounts of dust are likely to be produced.
  • Install a ventilation system that can help remove airborne dust from a facility.

If you have developed a lung illness or any other adverse health condition due to the nature of your job, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits. The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl — based in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — can help guide you through the process.

Why construction safety matters

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorney

The calendar year 2018 saw 4,779 worker fatalities in the private sector nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The construction industry accounted for an unacceptable 1,008 of those deaths, about one in five, or 21.1 percent.

The majority of fatalities – 58.6 percent – were in the “Fatal Four” categories. These include:

  1. Falling from a height: 338 deaths, or 33.5 percent.
  2. Being struck by an object: 112 deaths, or 11.1 percent.
  3. Electrocution: 86 deaths, or 8.5 percent.
  4. Caught in/between (getting caught in or crushed by equipment or objects): 55 deaths, or 5.5 percent.

That totals 591 worker lives for the year. The risk is greater for employees who work alone, according to the bureau.

Putting safety first

Too few construction companies see safety as an investment, but a safety program can boost morale and increase productivity. According to Occupational Health & Safety magazine, construction companies often fail in this area because:

  • They rely heavily on personal protection equipment to keep workers safe from harm. In many cases, the equipment is not adequate for the circumstances. A hard hat, for example, is not going to save a worker from injury in a significant fall. Additional measures should be taken to ensure worker safety.
  • They don’t have a monitoring system in place for employees who are working alone. Supervisors have no way of knowing when their workers need immediate medical attention.
  • There is a lack of an emergency response system to handle injuries in a timely manner. Companies must be prepared to respond to emergencies by having a plan in place. The plan should be clear, shared with employees at all levels and practiced on a regular basis.
  • They do not recognize or acknowledge that ignoring basic safety measures can be illegal. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re incompetent. Regardless, companies can face major fines, lawsuits, and the loss of licenses and contracts.

When safety isn’t first

If you have been injured in a construction site accident, you may be facing a lengthy rehabilitation or permanent disability. You are unable to work, pay your bills or support your family. Your employer is unlikely to admit any responsibility. They may, in fact, blame you. Their insurance company will pressure you to accept a lowball financial settlement because they know you need money. The workers’ compensation system is seemingly designed to frustrate you at every turn. At worst, you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one.

The workers’ compensation attorneys at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl have been handling cases just like yours in Rhode Island and Massachusetts since 1980. Let us put our decades of experience to work securing the future for you. Contact us today for a free consultation.