Exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, with around 40,000 people killed and many others injured each year. This number represents approximately ten times the number of Americans who are killed in every other category of on-the-job accident combined. Most chemical exposure in the workplace involves contact or inhalation hazards, which are often encountered in tasks that are routine to the occupations involved, and not all hazards are from what people typically consider ‘chemicals’. To be sure, particulate dust can pose just as great a health risk.
Risks Inherent To Jobs
Chemical exposure is often, but not always, related to the type of employment a person has: employees with jobs in the production sector are more likely to be exposed to chemical and particulate hazards on a regular basis than employees in an office environment. And in some occupations chemical-related illnesses are so common that they are even nicknamed for the careers that develop them. Some common examples of exposure related illnesses include:
- Mining and Drilling: these jobs expose workers to fine particulate rock dust on a regular basis, which can result in a number of lung diseases including silicosis, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (more commonly called COPD).
- Construction Workers: there are a number of exposure hazards involved in construction work. Working with cement, concrete, insulation, and drywall has the potential to cause the same sort of work related illnesses that mining and drilling can for the same reason: particulate dusts made up of various minerals. Sawdust from woodworking can also cause similar breathing problems, including nasal and sinus cancer, asthma, and contact dermatitis. This can be particularly problematic when it involves weather treated lumber, which can include such chemicals as copper azole, creosote, and chromated copper arsenate (which includes, among other things, arsenic compounds). The fumes from some common products used in the construction industry such as insulation, glues, solvents, polyurethane, and some blown foams can cause a variety of respiratory and allergy issues, as can products used in older structures that have since been banned, such as lead based paint and asbestos.
- Welding: the welding process releases a number of different toxins in the fumes that are produced, both from the metals themselves, and from various coatings and treatments that are used on them. These have been found to cause COPD, and various types of cancer. Welding rods also contain manganese, which can cause a disease similar to Parkinson’s disease.
- Working With Grains: agricultural workers can be exposed to mold or bacteria found in grain crops and hay that causes a respiratory disease known as “farmer’s lung”, which is similar to asthma and can cause permanent lung damage.
- Working With Cotton/Flax/Hemp: the dust from these crops can cause byssinosis (brown lung) which can result in permanent lung damage.
- Working With Nylon: workers employed in making “flock”, used as fiber fill in a variety of products, can develop flock worker’s lung, which causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs.
- Popcorn And Artificial Flavor Manufacturing: the CDC estimates over a thousand ingredients used as flavoring can be potentially hazardous, causing a respiratory disease called bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung).
Not every medical condition caused by on-the-job exposure to chemicals is specific to a certain occupation. For instance, exposure to diesel fumes, which is common in many occupations can cause heart and respiratory diseases. And even the most high-tech occupations can have risks relating to chemical exposure, such as beryllium used in the aerospace industry, which when inhaled can cause lung cancer or berylliosis.
Contact A Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you feel that you have developed a disease caused by exposure to chemicals or particulate materials at work you may be entitled to recover through your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Contact a workers’ compensation attorney in your area to discuss your situation and determine what the best course of action may be.