Many people are increasingly aware of the toxins in our environment and take active steps to reduce or avoid exposure. What if that toxic exposure is at your place of employment? From working in factories and manufacturing to health care facilities, there are many industries and careers where exposure to toxins can occur.
Chemical hazards and toxic substances can create a wide range of hazards to people’s health. These can cause irritation, they may be explosive, and they can increase the risk of developing cancer.
If someone is injured at work because of exposure to chemicals or toxins, they might be compensated through a worker’s compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit. Worker’s compensation is a way for employees who are injured at work to be compensated for lost wages and medical expenses without the need to prove their injuries stemmed from the negligence of their employer. In turn, the employer can’t say the employee negligently caused their own injury.
The following are some of the key things to know about toxin exposure at work.
1. Skin Exposures
Some chemicals are able to enter your body through your skin, leading to organ damage. Absorbing chemicals in the workplace through your skin can cause a wide variety of health conditions. Skin diseases that are related to occupations include skin cancers, rash, skin infections, and skin injuries.
Dermal absorption is the technical name for skin exposure, and it occurs when a chemical passes through your skin and into your body. Organic solvents and pesticides are two examples of chemicals that can damage organs if they enter the bloodstream.
Along with skin contact, chemicals can enter the body through eating or drinking, or breathing.
2. Toxic Substances
Some of the relatively common toxic substances that people are exposed to in the workplace, or may have been in the past, include:
- Asbestos is a mineral largely present in workplaces throughout most of the 19th century. While many places have gotten rid of asbestos, it could still be in some buildings. Industries that were commonly exposed to asbestos included miners, firefighters, members of the military, and construction employees. Exposure to asbestos can affect the lungs, causing the development of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other lung conditions.
- Benzene is a chemical used to make a wide variety of products, including dyes, oils, pesticides, and detergents. People who work in a facility that manufactures or uses substances with benzene substances are at a high risk of developing a disease related to their occupation. Most commonly, benzene exposure is associated with leukemia.
- Lead exposure over time can damage the kidneys and nervous system. Industries that may be most often exposed to lead include people in construction, manufacturing, auto repair, plumbing, and mining.
- Arsenic can cause damage to the circulatory, nervous and respiratory systems. It’s found in the agriculture sector, electronics, and glass production, and people who work with wood preservatives may be exposed.
- Pesticide exposure can put people at increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, cancer, seizures, asthma, respiratory problems, rashes, and blisters.
- Electronic waste, which often comes from older appliances, can lead to inflammation, DNA damage, oxidative stress, kidney disease, and cancer.
- Zinc is found in sunscreen and ointments, paint, metal alleys, and concrete. It can lead to kidney and stomach damage.
Specific examples of jobs where exposure is common include:
- Construction, where workers can be exposed to asbestos, chemical fumes, wood dust, and silica.
- Welding involves metal that produces toxic fumes.
- Farming and grain workers can become sick because of mold spores and bacteria that are in crops.
- Workers exposed to diesel fumes, such as truckers, could have heart or respiratory issues or be at higher risk of developing lung cancer.
- In the aerospace industry, workers are exposed to beryllium which is a metal used to build missiles and planes. The skin can absorb it, causing lung illnesses.
People in the military are often exposed to toxins during their service, and recently signed into law was the PACT Act, which expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances.
3. What Should You Do If You Think You Were Exposed to Toxins At Work?
You might have a worker’s compensation claim if you were exposed to toxic chemicals at work.
One of the first things to do if you believe that’s the case is talk to a medical provider. A doctor or other healthcare provider can evaluate your condition. They can also if needed, refer you to a specialist who evaluates exposure to toxins in the workplace.
If you have an illness or possible medical condition that a health care professional believes stems from chemical exposure at work, contact your employer right away. It’s your employer who provides you with the paperwork you need to file a worker’s compensation claim. Your doctor in many states can also fill out forms to report a workplace injury, which would start your claim.
Through a worker’s compensation claim, certain benefits may be available, but they depend on the state and the circumstances of your case.
You could be eligible for temporary disability benefits, which are a way to compensate for the loss of income during the time you receive treatment and can’t work. You could be eligible for permanent partial disability or permanent total disability benefits, providing compensation for permanent bodily impairment. You could also be reimbursed for medical treatment.
4. Exposure That Wasn’t Under the Control of Your Employer
If you were injured or became ill due to chemical exposure while you were working, but your employer didn’t have control over the location where the chemical was, you could have two claims—one for worker’s compensation and one for personal injury.
If you think that you’ve become sick or injured because of toxin exposure at your work, the first thing to do is talk to a health care provider, and from there, you can figure out whether or not you have a diagnosis, and if so, what you need to do to receive compensation.