Many different items encountered on worksites could make you sick. Those who work in construction, manufacturing, mining, and industrial occupations may encounter any number of dangerous chemicals and toxins which they breathe in, which are absorbed through the skin, and which can cause chemical burns or get into the eyes and affect vision. Even employees who do not work in traditionally dangerous industries could encounter chemicals at their place of work. For example, teachers who work in old school buildings or office workers in old structures could encounter asbestos, or workers in any profession could be exposed to hazardous cleaning products.
Whenever you encounter any toxin at work, from pesticides to silica to mold and lead, this exposure could cause you to become very sick. If you fall ill, you should be entitled to workers' compensation benefits for your illness. Unfortunately, proving you got sick because of your work can be a challenge, because many of the illness people get after toxic exposure manifest years after the initial contact and have multiple causes.
The risk of toxic exposure is a substantial one on many worksites because toxic chemicals are not always regulated the way they should be. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicates the agency regulates permissible exposure limits (PELs) for some types of dangerous chemicals that can cause people to get sick if they are exposed. Unfortunately, OSHA warns that its limits are outdated.
Although there have been some new rules passed and promulgated in 2016, OSHA has not had a major overhaul to its permissible exposure limits for more than 40 years. Safety and Health Magazine indicates the lack of updating has resulted in many dangerous chemicals not actually being included on the list of regulated substances at all. Further, even for chemicals which are on the list, the levels which are allowed may be higher than is actually safe.
It takes a long time and is a complicated process for OSHA to change its permissible exposure limit rules, as the agency cannot just do a major overhaul of its list to protect employees from all the toxins which could make them sick. OSHA had tried to pass a broad overhaul back in 1989, but a 1992 case called AFL-CIO vs. OSHA resulted in OSHA's rules being struck down.
The court held OSHA should have conducted an individual assessment of each of the chemicals on its list in order to determine permissible levels. The effect of this was to abolish the health standards for close to half of the substances which OSHA had tried to cover and to return exposure limits to the permitted levels OSHA had adopted back in 1971.
Although OSHA may not be effective in limiting workplace exposure, employers still should make the responsible choice to protect their workers. If an employee is exposed to hazardous substances, the employee needs to understand his right to workers' comp benefits.