Construction workers are exposed to a variety of health hazards every day. These hazards can cause workers to become sick, ill and disabled for life. The construction industry brings a challenging mix of traditional hazards mixed with the new. Besides age-old threats of silica, lead and asbestos, workers must contend with hazardous modern chemicals and advanced material. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these chemical hazards can be in the form of gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, fibers and mists. All of these hazardous chemicals can cause serious health injuries.
Now that we are equipped with this knowledge, responsible employers put safeguards on the exposure their employees can suffer. But OSHA only started enforcing these protections in 1970, and just last year OSHA issued more than 60,000 citations for employer violations of worker and worksite safety standards. These are not just technical standards either — OSHA violations can carry penalties into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When negligence results in illness for a worker, it can often be difficult to find out who is responsible. With the experienced lawyers from McEldrew Young Purtell on your side, you can find your way out of the situations created by exposure to toxic chemicals and earn the justice that will allow you to live the life you deserve.
Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances
With many chemical hazards, we’ve only understood the harm that they caused when they manifest life-altering effects, like cancer and respiratory disorders. When the risks that workers take are repaid with negligence from their employers and other responsible parties, this already unfair chain of events starts to take on a predatory air.
OSHA published a list of chemical hazards and toxic substances for the construction industry including the following:
- Acrylonitrile: Workers exposed to high levels of acrylonitrile for even an hour suffer visible ill effects.
- Asbestos: Asbestos-related illnesses often take 20-50 years to develop, at which point they can cancer and genetic damage.
- Benzene: Both a worker and cigarette smoker hazard, benzene is known to cause leukemia.
- Cadmium: Chronic exposure to cadmium fumes and dusts is linked to an increased risk of lung disease.
- Chromium (VI): Chronic inhalation of these compounds increases the risk of lung, nasal and sinus cancer.
- Ethylene oxide: Ethylene oxide reacts directly with proteins and DNA to cause cell death.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde occurs both naturally and in human-made products, and has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory test animals.
- Inorganic arsenic: Ingestion causes severe gastrointestinal distress, and may lead to dehydration, shock, organ failure and death.
- Lead: Lead exposure causes developmental delays, neurologic changes and in high concentrations, death.
- Methylene chloride: OSHA considers methylene chloride to be a potential occupational carcinogen — it has proven short-term effects.
- Methylenedianiline (MDA): Acute exposure to MDA causes liver damage.
- Vinyl chloride: Exposure can cause dizziness, ataxia, inebriation, fatigue, visual disturbances, coma and death.
- 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane: It causes sterility at high levels of exposure in humans, and birth defects in animals.
Workers at the Greatest Risk of Toxic Exposure
Employers in certain industries are required to take more precautions than others. The following occupations have a greater risk of chemical exposure:
- Sanitation workers
- Farm workers
- Maritime workers
- Oil miners
- Construction workers
- Manufacturing employees
- Medical providers
- Commercial painters
- Refinery workers
- Auto repair workers
How Do Toxic Chemicals Affect Workers?
The toxins contained in chemicals affect workers in different ways. While chemicals like asbestos can cause genetic damage such as birth defects, inhaled substances such as cadmium have physical effects like the increased prevalence of cancer in exposed workers.
The three main modes of toxicity are:
- Chemical toxicity: This stems from the inhalation of substances like lead, gasoline and asbestos.
- Biological toxicity: Bacteria and viruses can cause sickness in lab technicians working with these agents.
- Physical toxins: These are typically visible toxins such as dust and fibers.
The Most Common Diseases Associated with Chemical Exposure
When chemical exposure manifests in disease, it often feels like it’s too late to do anything. Oftentimes, the affected worker will no longer be working where the exposure occurred — in many cases, their exposure will have occurred decades before any sign of illness. Sometimes their exposure may not even be known to them, especially if their work in an affected industry happened before OSHA clamped down on the use of certain deadly chemicals.
Exposure to these chemicals can cause illnesses which require serious medical treatment. Many don’t have a taste or odor — only symptoms caused by exposure.
The following diseases have all been linked to such exposures:
- Lung disease
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Aplastic anemia
When to Consult with an Experienced Chemical Exposure Lawyer
While it’s possible for individuals to navigate some areas of personal injury law on their own, a chemical exposure lawsuit is almost always complex and will require the kind of expert and professional legal counsel that McEldrew Young Purtell specializes in.
Even if a worker believes that they were not affected by chemical exposure or a plant accident, this heightened risk of exposure may require the guidance of an experienced lawyer. Chemicals can seep into clothing and skin or poison air quality for a long time before being noticed. In addition, prolonged exposure to such chemicals may be more detrimental than acute exposure.