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Are Construction Workers Frequently Exposed to Toxic Chemicals?

Workers' Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb help workers injured by toxic chemicals

Construction workers face a host of job-related risks, such as burn injuries, electrocutions, slip and falls, and heavy machinery accidents. While the work they perform is vital, it is also quite dangerous. In fact, in 2018, one in five private sector deaths occurred in the construction industry. Many hazards construction workers encounter is not always visible. Solvents, pesticides, cleaners, and other toxic chemicals can lead to chronic, debilitating illnesses. What many of these workers may not realize is that Workers’ Compensation benefits cover losses associated with respiratory problems and other conditions caused by hazardous materials.

Common Chemicals Found at Construction Sites

In a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of construction workers polled said that they were exposed to toxic substances at least twice a week. That is more than double the average in other American industries. While employers have a legal duty to protect workers from inhaling, ingesting, or coming into bodily contact with these dangerous chemicals, CDC data suggests they are not doing enough. Common chemical hazards include:

  • Asbestos
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Flammable materials
  • Gasoline
  • Industrial cleaners
  • Paints
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents

These dangerous chemicals take many forms, such as fumes, vapors, and gases. Odorless and colorless chemicals are especially dangerous because they are harder to detect.

How Do Chemicals Enter the Body?

Exposure to toxins cause a wide range of injuries and illnesses, depending on the type of contact. The chemical itself and the length of exposure also influence a diagnosis or injury. The following is an overview of common health problems due to contact with hazardous chemicals:

Skin Exposure to Toxic Substances

A primary means of contact with hazardous chemicals is through the skin. Skin contact occurs in two different ways:

Direct Skin Contact: According to the CDC, a chemical that makes direct skin contact is either a primary irritant or a sensitizer. Primary irritants can cause surface injuries, such as skin irritation or burns. Sensitizers can cause allergic reactions over time. Encountering chemicals can occur through direct skin contact with contaminated surfaces, immersion of the skin due to liquids, or through splashing.

Absorption Through the Skin: Some chemicals are absorbed through the outer surface of the skin into the body. Dermal absorption often occurs without the person knowing. Over time, chemicals can enter the bloodstream and cause systemic toxicity. Toxic levels can cause significant health problems, including damage to the nervous system, brain, and other organs. Pesticides and chemical solvents are two common substances absorbed through the skin.

Toxic Exposure Through Inhalation

Construction workers can also become sick by breathing in air contaminants on the job. Frequent or prolonged inhalation of wood dust, chalk, mold, chemicals, asbestos, and silica can cause severe occupational illnesses. The most common include:

  • Asbestos-related conditions: Mesothelioma and other related health problems that are caused by asbestos exposure.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): A group of lung diseases that include emphysema and bronchitis.
  • Occupational asthma: Asthma that is due to breathing in chemical gasses, fumes, dust, or other substances.
  • Silicosis: Scarring of the lungs, which is caused by breathing in silica dust.

Toxic Exposure Through Ingestion or Injection

Two less common means of contact with toxins occur through injection or ingestion. Injection occurs when a sharp object punctures the skin and transfers chemicals directly into the body. Construction workers may also inadvertently ingest chemicals by consuming food and drinks that have been exposed to toxins or were touched by contaminated hands. While ingestion is far less common than other methods of toxic exposure, reducing indoor and outdoor contaminants can prevent it from happening.

How Can Employers Protect Workers from Toxic Exposure?

To ensure that construction workers do not suffer serious health problems caused by hazardous chemicals, employers should provide the following:

Transparency About Job Hazards

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is incorporated so that certain employees understand the risks involved with chemicals. The guideline addresses the importance of disseminating information about these hazards through product labels and safety data sheets provided by manufacturers.

How Should Workers be Trained?

In addition to informing workers about the risks associated with toxic substances, employers should institute comprehensive programs that have safety measures, instructions, and information about what to do after accidental exposure occurs.

Permissible Exposure Limits

To manage the risk of toxic exposure to various chemicals, OSHA and other industry agencies established limits on airborne chemicals. These limits vary greatly and depend on how and where the chemical is being used and the length of exposure.

What Safety Equipment Should be Worn?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided by employers at no cost. PPE should be in good working order and designed for the tasks at hand. Safety gear includes:

  • Aprons
  • Face shields
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Respirators

Even with a thorough safety program, chemical accidents can still happen. Injuries and diseases caused by toxic exposure can be physically and mentally devastating. Workers’ Compensation benefits can alleviate the financial burden caused by an unfortunate workplace accident.

Am I Eligible for Workers’ Compensation?

Delaware employers are required to provide Workers’ Compensation coverage to all employees, including part-time and seasonal workers. From the day a construction worker is hired, they are entitled to receive benefits. Workers’ Compensation covers lost income, medical bills, and other financial losses. If a worker’s illness or injury resulted in their death, the survivors may also be entitled to death benefits. Since there are deadlines for filing Workers’ Compensation claims in Delaware, injured construction workers should report their conditions to their employers as soon as possible. Additionally, an injured worker should consult with an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer to determine if further legal action is necessary.

Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Help Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals

Construction workers face countless hazards on job sites every day. If you are an injured worker and need legal representation, speak to one of our Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. A respected lawyer will carefully explore every detail of your accident to determine if you are eligible for compensation. Call us at 302-888-1221 or complete our online form for a free consultation today. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Dover, Newark, and Middletown.