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Regular Exposure to Toxic Substances: Sentencing Workers to Their Early Death

Besides dangerous tools, equipment, and machinery, workers in industrial workplaces are also regularly exposed to another form of danger; toxic substances. The poisonous matter lead to the development of deadly, chronic diseases that keep many workers out of work or which make them them go on early retirement, require continuous medical treatment and which often alter the way these workers will spend the rest of their lives.

In line with its mission to create a safe and healthy working environment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an off-shoot of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, passed the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 1986. The HCS, also known as the “Worker Right-to-Know Legislation,” or the “Right-to-Know Law,” is directed to employers, requiring them to inform all their employees of the hazardous and deadly elements found, stored and used in the workplace and the measures that will protect these employees from the elements’ harmful effects. Aside from this, HCS also requires that:

Employees be given proper training regarding health and safety risks in the workplace, as well as free access to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), a document wherein information on the potential hazards of chemical products and how to work safely with these products are contained;

Warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) be attached by manufacturers and importers on all toxic products; and,

Labels should clearly specify the hazardous product’s potential effects to health, recommendations on how to store the product safely, instructions on the product’s safe use, emergency first aid instructions, and the manufacturer’s contact number/s in case the customer needs more information about the product.

Toxic substances and chemical hazards affect the lives of more than 13 million workers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The deadly effects of some of these elements can be sustained through inhalation of their fume. One particular substance that has caused serious lung disease in workers is silica (or crystalline silica), one of earth’s most common minerals and a basic component of granite and sand. Workers who are often exposed to this poisonous substance include foundry workers, miners and sandblasters. Due to regularly exposed to silica they face the danger inhaling its particles which can cause serious lung diseases, like silicosis, pulmonary tuberculosis or lung cancer.

There are three types of silicosis, namely:

  • Simple chronic silicosis. This develops at least 20 years after having been exposed to low amounts of silica particles or dust;
  • Accelerated silicosis. This takes about 5 to 15 years to develop due to exposure to larger amounts of silica particles; and,
  • Acute silicosis. This is the result of exposure to huge amounts of silica. This usually develops after weeks or months of exposure to silica’s toxic dust.

Any Houston personal injury attorney knows that employers are fully aware of two things: the dangers of being exposed to silica and that they allow, even require, some of their workers to be exposed to this toxic substance regularly.

The law firm Ravid & Associates, likewise, points out the dangers that workers face when exposed to toxic substances, saying that besides possibly suffering any type of serious injury (in case of an accident), the dangerous working condition they are exposed to can even result in wrongful death.

Silicosis, specifically, has no cure or treatment, other than bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and, if needed, oxygen. A person who is suffering from this type of lung disease can fall into deep financial problems too due to the high cost of medical treatment. Through the help of a seasoned personal injury lawyer, however, he/she may be able to claim compensation which will, at least, allow him/her to receive the necessary medical treatment that may somehow lessen the hardship he/she is suffering from.

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