The Center for Public Integrity recently published a scathing report on the inadequacy of workplace protections when it comes to chemical exposure. The report refers to a “slow-motion tragedy for American workers,” as toxic substances cause thousands of injuries and deaths every single year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is supposed to be protecting employees from workplace risks, including chemicals. The problem is, permissible exposure limits (PELs) are so outdated that OSHA has actually warned employers not to rely on them to protect workers from getting seriously ill.
Workers’ compensation benefits are available to employees who get sick because of on-the-job exposure. While many workers who apply for benefits do so after a fall or other accident causes acute injury, illnesses caused by exposure can actually be more costly and more difficult to treat in many situations.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in Atlanta should be consulted for assistance in making a claim if an illness or death may be related to toxic exposure on-the-job. These cases can sometimes be hard to prove as the illness may develop long after the initial exposure occurred. An attorney can help victims to make their case and prove their work was the cause of their harm so they can get the benefits they need.
Atlanta Workplace Illness Risks Due to Chemical Exposure
In 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health urged OSHA to significantly reduce limits on the amount of silica dust employees could be exposed to. OSHA was urged to halve the current limit, which it did in 1989. As explained in our previous article on Atlanta work injuries due to chemical exposure, the court overturned OSHA’s 1989 updates to permissible exposure limits. OSHA did not try again to regulate silica exposure until 2011. The new rule on silica exposure is not finalized and, if it is enacted, it will be the 37th health standard issued by OSHA over the past 44 years the agency has been in effect.
Silica is a threat to 2.2 million workers, most of whom are in the construction industry. Workers can develop serious life-threatening and terminal conditions, including acute silicosis. The Center for Public Integrity reported on one case of a 40-year old construction worker exposed to the silica dust over a five-month job. When he developed acute silicosis, he was given five years or less to live. If he does pass away, he will be among more than 50,000 people estimated to die annually from on-the-job exposure to toxic chemicals.
Exposure to toxins on-the-job kills more people than motor vehicle collisions, homicides, suicides, or falls. It also costs $58 billion per year, and causes an estimated 190,000 illnesses. OSHA is, unfortunately, not doing very much to prevent these tragedies. OSHA has only 470 exposure limits, which the agency admits are grossly outdated. Congress has refused to fortify laws dating back to 1970 specifying what OSHA can do, and trade groups routinely challenge any attempts at new standards in the courts. Workers are the ones who pay the price.
While OSHA may not be able to make a move towards fixing the problem, employees can make the voluntary choice to do the right thing. Even if employers do not violate any regulations, workers who can prove on-the-job exposure harmed them can still pursue a workers’ compensation benefits claim.
Parsons & Associates, P.C. is an Atlanta workers’ compensation law firm serving Atlanta, Savannah, and surrounding areas throughout Fulton County. Contact Parsons & Associates, P.C. today at 770-422-9000 or contact us online if you have been injured at work.