Are Construction Workers at Risk for Toxic Chemical Exposure?March 15, 2021
Construction workers are exposed to a wide range of workplace hazards, including falling from heights, scaffolding accidents, electrical injuries, and getting struck by a falling object. However, there are a wide range of chemicals that are present at construction sites, some of which are toxic and can be extremely hazardous to construction workers’ health.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all construction workers, including ensuring that workers are properly trained, that they have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and that the appropriate steps are taken if a construction worker is exposed to a hazardous chemical. If a worker suffers an injury or a serious health complication after being exposed to a toxic chemical in the workplace, he or she may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. In these situations, an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer can be invaluable.
What Hazardous Chemicals are Present at Construction Sites?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hazardous materials are chemicals or substances that are potentially harmful to people’s health and the environment. Since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, the EPA has had the ability to regulate chemical use in the United States, including substances that are considered particularly hazardous. The following are examples of toxic chemicals that are commonly used in the construction industry:
- Asbestos: Each year, approximately 15,000 people in the United States die of asbestos-related health complications, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other pulmonary diseases. Asbestos fibers are found in floor tiles, joint compounds, shingles, pipes, and cement boards.
- Formaldehyde: This is a known carcinogen that can cause irritation to the mucous membranes, the tissue inside the nose, other respiratory passages, and the gut. Long-term exposure can cause more serious respiratory issues, as well as skin irritation. Formaldehyde is found in the polymers used in plywood and carpets, as well as resins used in the manufacturer of paper products and polyurethane foam insulation.
- Diisocyanates: These can cause health complications when people come in contact with them in vapor or liquid form that occurs as a byproduct of manufacture. They are found in rigid and flexible foams, coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers.
- Flame retardants: These are chemicals used to stop the ignition or spread of fire. They are often found in thermal insulation boards and certain textiles. Halogenated flame retardants are related to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and can cause cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and developmental problems in children.
- Silica: Silica is a byproduct of bricks, glass, and concrete. When inhaled, silica dust can travel into the lungs and cause silicosis, lung cancer, and other potentially fatal lung diseases. It can also cause kidney cancer.
- Solvents: These include paint thinners, glue, and spot removers. They can be particularly hazardous when used in a poorly ventilated area.
- Asphalt: This is often used during road construction and can produce noxious fumes that can cause headaches, eye and throat irritation, and fatigue.
- Lead: According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), close to one million construction workers are exposed to lead every year. Unfortunately, long-term lead exposure can cause serious health complications.
- Hexavalent chromium: This is a known carcinogen that is used in primers, paints, and other surface coatings.
What Injuries are Caused by Toxic Chemical Exposure?
When construction workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, they are at an increased risk for suffering a range of injuries and health complications, particularly if their employer fails to take the necessary steps to protect workers or provide the PPE that will protect workers from these potentially dangerous substances. Depending on the toxic chemical of which the worker is exposed, the following are examples of injuries or health complications that construction workers can develop when exposed to hazardous chemicals:
- Lung cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Memory loss
- Neurological problems
- Organ damage
- Kidney failure
- Damage to the nervous system
- Reproductive damage
- Impaired vision
What Steps Should be Taken to Reduce the Risk of Toxic Chemical Exposure?
In response to the number of injuries and health issues related to workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals, the United States Department of Labor and OSHA have provided a range of training resources and updated standards that are designed to protect construction workers and prevent exposure to chemical hazards in the workplace. The following are examples of how employers and construction workers can avoid exposure to the toxic chemicals that can cause serious injuries and health complications:
- Raise awareness about the potential risks associated with specific chemicals. OSHA provides mandatory guidelines for identifying chemicals and requirements for employers to provide the necessary training and safety equipment.
- Educate workers about the chronic health risks associated with long-term exposure to hazardous chemicals. When using chemicals that seem to be a low threat to safety, workers are urged to use eye protection, air filtration, and gloves to avoid exposure and absorption of the toxic chemical to which they exposed.
- Just because hazardous chemicals cannot be seen does not mean that they are any less of a threat than other workplace hazards. Employers must be diligent about remaining compliant with all health and safety regulations to provide a safe work environment.
- Construction site employers must ensure that all employees receive the adequate amount of training for workplace safety protocols.
- Provide an OSHA-certified chemical hygiene plan to ensure that construction workers know the steps to take if they are exposed to a toxic chemical.
How Do I File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Toxic Chemical Exposure?
If a construction worker has been injured or is suffering from health complications resulting from exposure to a toxic chemical in the workplace, there are steps they should take to secure the financial benefits they are entitled to receive, including the following:
- Seek immediate medical treatment: Depending on the chemical to which the worker was exposed, it can cause immediate injuries or long-term health complications. It is critical that the worker seek medical attention as soon as possible to determine the nature and severity of the injury, as well as the course of treatment necessary, to have the best chance of achieving maximum recovery.
- Report the injury to the employer: It is very important that the employee reports the injury to his or her employer as soon as possible. Failing to report the injury or waiting too long to report it can result in the claim being denied. When an injured worker waits too long to report an injury, his or her employer may claim that the injury must not have been very serious if the employee waited so long to report it. If the claim is denied, the injured worker may not be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
- Talk to witnesses: The more information the employee can provide about the injury, the better. If other workers were present at the time of the injury or were aware of the toxic chemical exposure, the injured worker should obtain statements from witnesses. This can support the statements provided by the injured worker, as offer additional details that can be extremely helpful to the claim.
- File a Workers’ Compensation claim: Once the worker has been given a claim number by the employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurer, he or she must file the claim with the state commission.
- Follow the recommended treatment plan: The worker must follow his or her doctor’s orders. In addition to having a better chance of recovering from the injury or health issue, doing so will help ensure the worker receives the financial benefits he or she deserves. The worker should also save copies of all paperwork, including medical records, invoices, and witness statements.
What Benefits May I Receive if I am Exposed to a Toxic Chemical?
Unfortunately, construction workers are often exposed to a range of hazardous substances and chemicals at construction sites. Although the employer is responsible for taking the necessary steps to protect workers from these hazards, accidents can happen, and workers can become injured or suffer potentially serious health issues. Construction workers who have been injured on the job or become sick after being exposed to a toxic chemical may be eligible for the following Workers’ Compensation benefits:
- Medical expenses associated with the injury or illness
- Physical therapy
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Loss income and loss of future earning potential
- Disability benefits
Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals
If you or someone you know was exposed to hazardous or toxic chemicals in the workplace, you are urged to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will assist you with every step of the claims process and address all your questions and concerns. Protecting your legal rights is our top priority, and we will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. Our skilled legal team will secure the maximum financial benefits you deserve for your injury. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.