In certain types of work environments workers are regularly exposed to machineries, large and heavy equipment, sharp tools, and hazardous substances. Exposure to hazardous substances has caused in many workers the development of deadly, chronic diseases which has kept them out of work, required continuous medical treatment and altered the way they could conduct their future 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. This mandate, also known as “Worker Right-to-Know Legislation,” and “Right-to-Know Law,” is primarily directed to employers, requiring them to inform their employees of the hazardous and deadly elements found, stored and used in the workplace and the measures that will protect them from these elements’ harmful effects. The HCS also orders 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.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toxic substances and chemical hazards affect the lives of more than 13 million workers in the U.S. But, while firms may be well prepared to assess and control the effects of deadly substances sustained through inhalation of chemical fumes, which can lead to lung diseases, many are not saware of the dangers these same substances can cause on the skin, like systemic toxicity and occupational skin diseases (OSD). In fact, the CDC states that occupational skin disease (OSD) is the second most common type of work-related disease. This can occur in the following forms: skin cancers, infections, or injuries; allergic contact dermatitis; irritant contact dermatitis; and, other types of skin diseases. People who are most prone to OSD are those in the following lines of work: construction; printing or lithography; agriculture; cosmetology; cleaning; mechanics; health care; painting; and, food service. The lung disease a person may develop depends on the substance that he/she has been exposed to. A lung disease is more deadly; it also greatly reduces the quality of life of an affected worker as it progresses. Lung diseases include:
- Silicosis, which is due to inhalation of dust-containing silica;
- Pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, which is a result of inhaling coal dust over a long period of time;
- Chronic beryllium disease (CBD), which is caused by the metallic element Beryllium;
- Byssinosis, a lung disease resulting from the prolonged inhalation of textile fiber dust;
- Bronchiolitis obliterans (BO), constrictive bronchiolitis (CB) or obliterative bronchiolitis (OB), which is a rare, yet life-threatening and non-reversible type of obstructive lung disease due to the inflammation or scarring of the bronchioles (small airway branches). This lung disease can be due to different factors, including exposure to poisonous fumes, like sulfur dioxide, diacetyl, chlorine, ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, thionyl chloride, and so forth.
With the right safety equipment and workplace practices, you can avoid developing a potentially life-threatening lung disease. Sadly, though, not all employers provide you with adequate safety gear or the safe workplace protocols that you need to protect your health. You should not have to trade your health and safety for a position at work. There are certain laws in place, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, that offer you protection from unsafe work environments. If you have been subjected to dangerous work conditions, resulting in an occupational lung disorder, you should contact a tenacious lung diseases lawyer because you should not have to face the medical bills and lost wages resulting from your illness; your lawyer may also be able to help you claim the worker’s compensation that you deserve or help you evaluate if pursuing legal action against your employer of a third party is more necessary.