Exposure to Toxic Substances
Many jobs in the greater Boston area involve the risk of employees being exposed to toxic substances. This exposure often can lead to a personal injury that requires these employees to seek workers’ compensation benefits. Some jobs, such as those in a factory, have more obvious risks, while others, such as working on a construction site, might have hidden risks.
Common Occupational Toxins and Exposure Risks
Asbestos – asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral comprised of six silica elements. It was heavily mined and used during the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. and Western Europe. Until the 1970s, it was used in just about every phase of the construction process. Many buildings today still have asbestos in them, which often can become exposed and cause injuries to employees. Workers involved in renovations or demolitions are at a particularly high risk of exposure, as are any occupants of an office building or factory that contains friable asbestos. Friable asbestos is asbestos that is capable of being crushed under the power of the human hand. This allows dust to escape and when a worker inhales it can eventually lead to the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Pesticides – anyone working with agriculture, produce, or in any other capacity that involves plants runs a risk of exposure to dangerous pesticides. Many office environments and retail stores are also treated using pesticides. In some cases, pesticide exposure can cause severe illness over time, and in others even a single exposure incident may result in a serious or even fatal workplace injury.
Lead - According to the Massachusetts Executive Office Labor and Workplace Development, lead poses a major occupational health hazard for employees, albeit a totally preventable one. Lead poisoning takes time to occur, and symptoms include anemia, central nervous system damage, high blood pressure, kidney damage, and many other serious health issues. While lead often affects children who accidentally eat paint chips, lead can also be dangerous to adults, especially when it is in the form of dust that can be inhaled or ingested.
Hazardous Chemicals – some jobs, such as ones at power plants contain hazardous chemicals as known risks, but many other occupations do as well and the dangers may not be as obvious. Nail salons contain many hazardous chemicals that are used daily by employees. The chemicals often include glues, polish, polish removers, emollients, and many other toxic substances. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), occupational exposure to chemicals typically found in a nail salon can cause serious respiratory illness, asthma, skin disorders including contact dermatitis, liver disease and failure, reproductive issues leading to infertility, and various types of cancer. There is also a high risk that workers at nail salons will develop infections from touching client’s skin, blood, and nails. Hair salons also pose similar risks, for example hair dyes often contain harsh chemicals.
Cosmetics – The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) department is conducting ongoing research to assess the risk of occupational exposure to toxic chemicals for those working in the cosmetology industry. This includes those working in hair and nail salons as well as many other jobs involving cosmetics.
Cadmium – is a heavy metal that is found in many industrial work environments in Massachusetts. It is also used in the process of smelting ore. Exposure to cadmium can result in serious personal injury or death.
Household Chemicals – Many residential and commercial cleaning products can be very hazardous to one’s health. Some will be dangerous even with acute exposure, but others, such as commercial cleaning agents, can be become very toxic with repeated exposure in occupations such a being a janitor or housekeeper.
Toxic Mold – mold can occur anywhere, and some mold, commonly known as “black mold,” can be toxic. Employees who work in a moldy environment or construction workers, can be seriously harmed due to toxic mold exposure. This can be the basis of a Boston workers’ compensation claim. Symptoms of black mold exposure are typically headaches, fever, eye irritation, sneezing, rashes, chronic coughing and irritation of the mucosal membranes.
These are only a short list of examples of toxic substances that can cause serious on-the-job injuries. Our workers’ compensation attorneys see these and many others on a regular basis.
Proving a Workplace Injury
In some cases, there will be no question that an employee was injured while on the job due to exposure to toxic chemicals. For example, if a worker is working at a plant that recycles cadmium-containing batteries and is injured or killed as result of cadmium exposure, it is likely that the injury was caused by occupational exposure to cadmium. If a worker was employed at a nail salon and developed asthma, the workers’ compensation insurance company might claim the injury was not work related.
As defined by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152, Section 1, a workplace personal injury can include infectious or contagious diseases if the type of employment carries a risk of contracting such illnesses. This means that if the medical condition is of a type that one would expect to get from working that type of job, then it can be considered a workplace illness for the purpose of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.
Issues often arise when an employee’s treating physician opines that the employee’s illness is due to occupational illness, but the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company argues that the medical condition is not linked to occupational exposure. In such situations, the workers’ compensation insurance company may request that the employee be examined by a doctor from a list of physicians maintained by the company. These doctors are supposed to use their independent medical judgment to render an opinion as to the cause of the employee’s illness, but more often than not they tend to disagree with the opinions of the employee’s treating physician and write reports that favor the insurance company.
In such situations, a claim often must be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA) in order to ensure coverage of medical treatment and lost wages. The DIA will then assign the case to a court conciliator who will hear the issues and attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement or settlement. The conciliator has no power to fashion an order or make the parties settle. If a resolution cannot be reached, the case will be sent forward to an administrative judge (AJ). The administrative judge (AJ) will preside over a conference, in which the representative for the employee and the insurance company present their arguments on the case. A preliminary decision is then issued. If either of the parties appeal the temporary order resulting from the conference, a hearing will be necessary. The hearing is similar to a trial, as witnesses are called, and evidence supporting each side’s arguments is presented.
Between the Conference and Hearing, the court, pursuant to in M.G.L. Chapter 152, Section 11A, will often require an employee to submit to an impartial examination. A claim that has been denied by the insurance company for medical reasons, almost always requires the use of a court appointed impartial medical examiner to obtain an independent opinion on the medical issues. This examiner is a private medical consultant that is on a list of doctors maintained by the DIA. The doctor does not work for either the insurance company or the injured employee. The DIA also does not typically have a stake in the outcome of the case, because any award of benefits will not come from state funds in the clear majority of cases. As a result, the report generated by this doctor is seen as truly unbiased.
If you are injured as a result of occupational illness or disease, contact our law firm for a free consultation and to ensure you obtain the best representation possible.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.