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Chemical Exposure on the Job

Casey Woodruff

smokestackDoes your job require you to risk exposure to harmful substances? It’s important to understand the current regulations for workplace chemical exposure and the different ways in which employees can sustain serious illnesses at work. And if you have been injured, you should contact an experienced Chicago work injury attorney to discuss your case.

Thousands of Workers Killed Annually By Toxic Substances

According to a recent article in Slate Magazine, hundreds of chemical substances that are common at different workplaces have been identified as potentially deadly. Indeed, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis reported that more than 50,000 people die each year because of “on-the-job exposures.”

To put that number in perspective, it’s more than the total number of people “killed in suicides, motor vehicle accidents, falls, or homicides.” In addition to those who suffer fatal exposures, more than 400,000 become sick, costing nearly $60 billion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asserts that toxic exposures on the job result in an “annual toll of more than 50,000 deaths and 190,000 illnesses.” How can we prevent injuries from chemical exposures on the job? And how can injured workers hold employers liable?

Preventing Injuries with Better Chemical Regulations for Employees

Why do so many employees suffer injuries or illnesses from chemical exposure at work? Based on an 18-month investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, weak regulations for hazardous materials may be largely to blame for employees’ illnesses.   The “epidemic of occupational disease” in our country is a result, in part, of “neglect or misconduct by employers.” But there’s also a correlation with OSHA’s relatively weak “workplace exposure limits.”

Chemical exposure limits put in place by OSHA aren’t nearly as protective as those recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). Indeed, for more than 200 chemical substances encountered by workers each year, OSHA’s exposure limits are “over 10 times looser” than those recommended by the ACGIH.

The investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity also reported that “most of OSHA’s 470 chemical exposure limits are, by the agency’s own admission, grossly outdated and don’t protect workers from a variety of ailments.” In OSHA’s own analysis, the agency determined that “cancer risks associated with legal exposures to workers over their careers are as high as 6 in 10.” And those figures don’t take into account the thousands of chemicals that don’t have workplace exposure limits. Some examples include:

  • Diacetyl, a food flavoring that causes injuries to the lungs;
  • Herbicide glyphosate, recently identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a probable carcinogen; and
  • Chemotherapy drugs, which can injure the healthcare workers who handle and prepare them.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that chemical exposure doesn’t just occur in factories or on construction sites.   Hairdressers, grocery store meat wrappers, scientists, and more are all subject to workplace chemical exposures.   In other words, employees in hundreds of different professions risk illnesses and injuries caused by exposure to hazardous materials.

If you or someone you love became ill after being exposed to chemical substances at work, you should contact an aggressive Champaign workplace lawyer today. The advocates at Woodruff Johnson & Evans can talk with you about filing a claim for financial compensation.

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