On worksites throughout New York City, construction workers are tearing down old structures and being exposed to toxic mold, asbestos fibers, and lead paint. In factories throughout the boroughs of NYC, industrial workers and factory workers are being exposed to a host of chemicals, while landscape workers throughout the NYC metropolitan area breathe in pesticides. Employees in these and many other fields are facing all of the risks that go along with toxic exposure. People in offices or schools are also at risk, since toxins can be found everywhere.
Employers should try to keep levels of toxic chemicals down to a minimum on worksites in order to stop employees from getting sick from exposure. Unfortunately, many employers don’t choose to make the effort to keep chemical and toxin levels low. They are not being made to do so by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) either. When employees suffer because of the toxic exposure on worksites that they are being forced to endure at work, they should be entitled to receive workers compensation benefits for their illness.
OSHA has tried to regulate chemical exposure, but has been very ineffective. Back in 1971, OSHA set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for some chemicals which were considered dangerous. Then, in 1989, OSHA decided to expand its list of PELs. New chemicals had been discovered and put into use in the interim between 1971 and 1989, and new information had come to light about safe limits of exposure.
Unfortunately, in 1992, OSHA’s expansion of PELs was struck down by the court in case called AFL-CIO v. OSHA. In this case, the court ruled that OSHA couldn’t just make a blanket rule setting PELs for a wide variety of substances which the agency had listed. Instead, OSHA would have to individually assess appropriate limits for each substance it wished to regulate. This meant some chemicals would not have PELs any more and others would have PELs reverting to the 1971 rules.
OSHA has since passed some rules regulating certain toxic substances, such as new regulations on Silica. There remain, however, many chemicals which are not properly regulated. OSHA has prepared many materials for employers who wish to take voluntary steps to try to protect employees from being exposed to toxins which could make them sick. However, without clear guidelines, many employers don’t have much incentive to take the necessary steps to keep employees safe.
If an employee is sickened by toxic exposure, it is important to be able to prove the source of the illness was work-related. Too often, an illness like cancer develops due to exposure, but since there are many possible causes for cancer, it can be hard to pinpoint this fact. Also, since many people don’t get sick for years after exposure, this can make it hard to make a workers’ compensation claim. Showing you got sick because of your job is essential to being able to recover workers’ compensation benefits for losses.