Chemical Exposure

Chemicals surround American workers in nearly every job throughout the country. Most people don’t think twice about the toxins they come into contact with because they assume that if it was dangerous, their employer would have informed them of the risk. Unfortunately, as many find out, employers don’t always have their employees best interests in mind and dangerous working conditions are more common than they should be.

How Chemicals Enter The Body

There are several ways in which a hazardous chemical may enter the body of a worker.

Inhalation

Breathing in toxins is the most common way in which workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals. The toxin is inhaled into the lungs, where it then passes through the tissue lining the lungs into the bloodstream. Considering that the average person will inhale between 2,800 – 10,000 litres of air during their work day, a large amount of toxin will also be taken in. Once the chemical is in the bloodstream, it will be distributed to the rest of the body.

It isn’t just gases and vapours that can be inhaled – dusts, fumes, and smoke can also enter the lungs and cause serious damage to these vital organs.

Skin Contact

If the skin isn’t covered with protective gear, chemicals can be absorbed into the skin and then enter the bloodstream. Toxins that the skin would normally protect the body from can also enter in through breaks in the skin, such as cuts, abrasions, or punctures.

While some toxins may cause reactions such as a rash or ulcerations, often the victim isn’t even aware that they have come into contact with a hazardous chemical.

Ingestion

Not only can food that has been exposed to chemicals lead to the ingestion of that toxin, but also the natural act of breathing can result in toxins entering into the digestive system through oral mucous.

If a toxin is inhaled, it can then be exhaled through the mouth. It is during this exhalation that the chemical may become absorbed into the mucous of the mouth, which is then swallowed.

Hazardous Chemicals Often Found On Work Sites

Some of the most common gas, liquid, and solid chemicals found in American workplaces include:

  • Propane gas
  • Radon
  • Soot
  • Benzene
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Asbestos
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nickel
  • Cyanide
  • Arsenic
  • Formaldehyde
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers

Workers have reported that exposure to these chemicals and thousands of others have resulted in cancer, infections, organ failure, burns, skin conditions, thyroid issues, and a wide variety of other medical conditions.

What Steps Has OSHA Taken To Protect Workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires:

  1. Companies creating and / or importing chemicals to provide the correct safety data to buyers.
  2. That all chemicals in a workplace be correctly labelled and that safety sheets be provided by the employer for employees.
  3. Training will be provided for any employees that are going to be using or come in contact with hazardous chemicals.
  4. That safety equipment which is appropriate for each chemical be provided to all employees.
  5. All chemicals be stored in the appropriate container and at the correct temperatures.

OSHA has also created “permissible exposure limits” or PELs for many chemicals which indicate the maximum exposure limits for workers.

What Should I Do If I Discover Toxins Are Present In My Workplace?

If you believe that you are being exposed to toxins in the workplace, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

Talk To Your Employer

Ask your employer for information on all chemicals in the work environment and for instructions on the appropriate safety measures that need to be taken in order to stay safe.

Seek A Doctor’s Opinion

If you think that you have already been exposed to a toxic chemical, you should seek the advice of a doctor.

Report Possible Unsafe Conditions To OSHA

OSHA exists to protect American workers. If you believe that you and your coworkers are working in an unsafe environment due to chemical exposure, you should report the issue to the administration. They will send an investigator to determine if your employer is failing to meet the necessary safety standards and will take action if that is indeed the case.

Won’t I Get Into Trouble With My Employer?

Reporting an employer can be an intimidating task and employees are often understandably concerned that they may lose their jobs. In order to protect those who report unsafe working conditions, OSHA created the “Whistleblower Protection Programs”. This program means that employees are safe from retaliation if they choose to report their employer.

If I Was Hurt By A Chemical Who Will Pay My Medical Bills?

If you were injured or developed an illness after exposure to a chemical while working, it is possible that you may be able to get compensation for your medical bills through workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance was designed to protect both the employer and the employee – if a claim is filed, the employer is protected because the employee will be unable to pursue legal action against them. In exchange, the employee may recover medical expenses and in some cases a portion of their lost wages.

But as with all insurance, not every claim is approved. In fact, a large percentage of workers’ compensation claims are denied outright. If your claim has been denied, it is best to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can assist you with filing an appeal and represent you at any hearings in front of the New York Workers’ Compensation Board.

In addition to helping with your appeal, an attorney may be able to identify a third party who was responsible for your injury or illness. For example, if the container which contained the chemical that harmed you was defective, it may be possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer of the defective container. Personal injury lawsuits are another way in which workers may be able to obtain full compensation for not only their medical expenses, but also lost earnings, pain and suffering, and emotional trauma.

 

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Danielle Dexter, Workers Comp Client from Westchester County

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