How to Receive Compensation After On-the-Job Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
Though we do not often notice them, toxic chemicals are a daily occurrence, be they fumes from an old pick-up or carcinogens found in our food. The more serious cases have become common knowledge, especially for blue-collar workers: asbestos, pesticides, lead poisoning, and mold can all cause serious health concerns over time. Other toxins may be more obvious, such as acidic chemicals that cause third-degree burns.
While the use of these chemicals is commonplace for most workers in Massachusetts, that does not mean workers shouldn’t pursue workers’ compensation claims to cover their medical expenses and their lost wages. In addition, if a negligent third-party exposed a worker to toxic chemicals when they were working, that party could and should be held liable for any damages.
Work Environments in Which Employees Face a Risk of Dangerous Chemical Exposure
Toxic exposure can occur in nearly any work environment, from a manufacturing plant to an office building. The most at-risk workers often work in the following industries:
- Power plants
- Automotive manufacturing
- Mineral extraction and processing
- Manufacturing of paint or chemicals
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has outlined strict rules and regulations regarding toxic chemicals, including proper safety procedures to minimize the risk to workers. These procedures cross multiple industries, not only the ones listed above. Any violation of these regulations can cause serious injuries to workers and result in major federal fines for their employer.
What Are Some Types of Toxic Exposure Accidents in the Workplace?
Among the many chemicals that workers are exposed to each day, the following are the most common and well-known:
- Pesticides: Hazardous pesticides have become a natural part of the agricultural industry, from the farms that grow fresh crops to workers that package and transport food. Even workers in offices, schools, and stores are exposed to pesticides, often by local landscaping companies or janitorial staff. Symptoms of pesticide exposure take time to develop and can result in a serious illness over a handful of years. For individuals with compromised immune systems, such as asthma, injuries can occur shortly after exposure.
- Lead: Despite efforts to remove and outlaw lead-based paints and pipes, workers are still exposed to this dangerous chemical every day. Whether a worker accidentally inhales or ingests it, exposure to lead can result in debilitating medical conditions, damaging the kidneys, cardiovascular system, and central nervous system, among other parts of the body.
- Toxic mold: While most people think mold is an easy fix with some bleach, humid and wet environments can easily turn it into a more toxic form: black mold. Plumbers, carpenters, and other construction workers can risk being exposed to black mold while renovating or demolishing a building. Simply inhaling black mold while working a construction job can result in fevers, damage to the lungs and throat, eye and skin irritation, and serious headaches. Black mold can also increase the symptoms of other medical conditions, such as auto-immune diseases.
- Cadmium: While OSHA has advised manufacturers to use a less toxic material, this heavy metal is still present in many industrial work environments. Even brief exposure to cadmium can damage the lungs, while long term exposure affects the kidneys and bones.
- Cosmetics: Workers in the beauty industry, including hair and nail salons, regularly handle a variety of toxic chemicals for their work. Whether it is a name-brand or generic product, makeup, hair solution, and nail polish all contain some form of toxic chemicals. Most of these chemicals are regulated to minimize the short-term effects, but long-term exposure can result in respiratory illnesses, skin irritations, and even cancer, as reported by the OSHA.
- Industrial cleaning agents: Janitorial staff and sanitation workers have to deal with a large number of toxic materials that result in serious medical conditions, some of which are the result of the cleaning solutions they use.
- Asbestos: One of the most well-known toxins, asbestos was once a common occurrence in the construction industry. However, since doctors discover the major health concerns of the product, the use of this chemical has been nearly outlawed. Sadly, its boom in the construction industry resulted in it being used in multiple homes and buildings. Anyone involved in demolition or renovation has some risk of exposure, as well as anyone working or living in those buildings. When a worker inhales asbestos, it can lead to mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, stomach, heart, or other organs.
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Can You Receive Compensation for Toxic Exposure On-the-Job Injuries?
Workers’ compensation is designed to protect workers who are injured on the job – including Massachusetts workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals. This compensation should cover all related medical bills, from tests to medications and even surgery, as well as lost wages. Receiving benefits after a workplace injury should be a simple matter, but this is not always the case. Because toxic exposure often features long-term symptoms, workers’ compensation insurance may try to deny claims because the connection is not that clear. Even when medical records clearly show that an illness or injury is work-related, the insurance company may disagree.
In some cases, workers’ compensation will cover toxic exposure, but another third-party may be liable. This can include a company that contracted you through your employee and did not provide the necessary safety equipment to handle toxic chemicals, or a manufacturer who did not inform your employer of the apparent risks of certain chemicals. In both cases, if the third-party was negligent, their negligence caused your injury, and you were not covered under the third-party’s workers’ compensation policy, then you may be able to file a personal injury claim against them.
How Do You Proceed If the Workers’ Comp Insurer Denies Your Claim?
Even if workers’ compensation is denied and there is no third-party to file a claim with, there are still options available to you. Any claim that is denied can be refiled with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA). This state organization provides court conciliators to help mediate workers’ comp disputes between workers and employers. They will attempt to reach a fair resolution to help cover your medical bills, but sometimes resolutions cannot be reached. In this scenario, an administrative judge will oversee your case and deliver a preliminary decision. If either party appeals the preliminary decision, a hearing will be set, similar to a trial, in which witnesses are called and supporting evidence is presented for each side.
This process can be daunting for any employee, especially those suffering due to toxic exposure. Receiving workers’ compensation in Boston should not be this difficult for injured workers, especially when there is a clear case of toxic exposure or negligence on the part of a third-party. For your best chance of receiving benefits, you need an experienced Burlington attorney by your side to help navigate all options available to you. Contact DiBella Law Offices, P.C. at (978) 327-5140 to schedule a free consultation.