Are you exposed to toxins in your workplace?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a “hazardous chemical” as any chemical that can cause a physical or health hazard.
We tend to think of workers’ compensation benefits as coverage for broken bones, back injuries, or other kinds of physical injury. However, an illness that was caused by conditions or exposure in the workplace is covered by workers’ compensation, too.
What is workers’ comp?
Workers’ compensation is a system that operates nationwide but is governed individually by state. It’s designed to provide benefits to a worker who’s injured anytime within the course of performing work-related tasks or in the workplace.
Each state has different laws for how workers’ compensation is provided but, in general, it’s required for any employer that has at least 1 employee (or a few more, depending on the state). It usually applies to any industry sector, regardless of whether the employer is private or part of a government agency.
There are some exceptions for when workers aren’t covered under workers’ compensation. Here’s a couple:
- Railroad workers are covered for a workplace injury under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). You can read more about FELA in Arizona.
- Federal employees receive workers’ compensation benefits under the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA). Learn more about FECA in Arizona.
Top 10 largest employers in Arizona
The 10 largest employers in Arizona are:
|Number||Employer||Number of employees|
|1||University of Arizona||14,466|
|2||Raytheon Missile Systems (Tucson)||13,000|
|3||Arizona State University||12,218|
|4||Mesa Public Schools||10,000|
|5||Raytheon Missile Systems (Oro Valley)||10,000|
|6||General Dynamics Mission Systems||7,000|
|7||HonorHealth Heart Group - Shea||7,000|
|9||Luke US Air Force Base||4,800|
|10||Boeing Mesa Fire Dept||4,000|
Source: U.S Department of Labor, CareerOneStop
There are several entities on this list that are high-tech manufacturing, and that’s bound to involve some chemicals or processes that might expose you to substances that can make you sick.
What is a toxic substance?
There are generally 4 types of toxic substances: chemical, biological, physical, and radiation.
Chemicals fall into 2 categories:
- Methyl alcohol
- Toxins (poison or venom that originates from a plant or animal)
- Hydrofluoric acid
- Chlorine gas
A toxic chemical can exist as liquid, gas, vapor, fumes or particles.
Top 10 hazardous chemicals in the workplace
|Toxic substance||Where it’s found||Illnesses and injuries caused|
|Arsenic||Agriculture, electronics, wood preservatives, glass production||Cancer; damage to nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems|
|Lead||Roofing materials, electronics, ammunition, boats, scuba gear, mining sites||Brain damage, kidney disease, birth defects, anemia|
|Benzene||Crude oil and gas, plastics, detergents, pesticides (also occurs naturally in volcanoes and from forest fires)||Anemia, immune system problems, excessive bleeding, bone marrow damage|
|Chromium||Metals, such as alloys and stainless steel||Asthma, cancer, damage to respiratory system, eyes, eardrums, kidneys and liver|
|Toluene||Paint thinner, nail polish remover, glue, explosives, printing, leather tanner, ink, stain remover||Anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia, numbness, dermatitis, liver and kidney damage, dizziness and confusion|
|Cadmium||Rechargeable batteries, solar cells, pigment, plastic stabilizers, plating, coatings||Lung and respiratory damage, kidney and bone disease, cancer, flu-like symptoms, neurological, reproductive, and gastrointestinal system damage|
|Zinc||Auto parts, sensors, sunscreen, ointment, concrete, paint, metal alloys||Nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, headaches, kidney and stomach damage|
|Mercury||Thermometers and barometers, fluorescent lights, mercury vapor lamps, telescopes, cosmetics, dental fillings||Nervous, digestive, immune system, lung, thyroid, kidney and neuromuscular damage, memory loss, insomnia, tremors, paralysis|
|Pesticide||Pesticide products and areas that use a lot of pest control products||Parkinson’s disease, rashes, blisters, nausea, diarrhea, respiratory problems, cancer, asthma, seizures|
|Electronic waste||Older appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, computers, televisions, etc.||Inflammation, DNA damage, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nervous system damage, cancer, inflammation, oxidative stress|
Anyone can be exposed to toxic chemicals, regardless of where you work or the type of occupation. Anyone who works around dust, fibers, chemicals, or fumes can be at risk for occupational disease.
The CDC says that workers most likely to experience potentially harmful skin exposure include the following jobs:
- Food service
- Health care
- Printing or lithography
Occupational illness and chemical exposure in miners
Mining is one of the largest industries in Arizona. That includes any job that involves mining, drilling, or blasting into the earth. The primary concern for occupational exposure for miners is silicosis, which is from exposure to silica dust. This substance can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
Other professions that have high rates of occupational exposure illnesses include:
- Construction can expose workers to silica and wood dust, chemical fumes, and asbestos.
- Welding involves molten metal that can produce toxic fumes with manganese, which causes a disease with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s.
- Farming and grain workers can develop Farmer’s Lung, which is a disease caused by mold spores and bacteria in crops.
- Cotton, flax, or hemp workers are at risk for byssinosis, which is similar to asthma and is caused by exposure to unprocessed forms of these crops.
- Workers exposed to diesel fumes can experience lung cancer or heart and respiratory issues.
- Workers exposed to excessive noise can suffer from hearing loss or permanent ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Workers exposed to nylon fibers could suffer from Flock Worker’s Lung. Fibers that contain flock are in carpeting, upholstery, blankets, and other household goods.
- Workers exposed to popcorn & flavorings in microwave popcorn plants have been shown to develop bronchiolitis obliterans, or popcorn lung.
- Aerospace industries can expose workers to beryllium, which is a metal used in building missiles, spacecraft, satellites, and airplanes. It’s absorbed by the skin and can cause lung cancer and other lung-related illnesses.
Workers’ compensation insurance benefits
Arizona workers’ compensation benefits provide the following compensation to injured workers:
- Medical treatment for the illness, including future treatments. This includes prescription medication, surgeries, diagnostic testing, doctor or hospital visits, therapies, and any other required medical assistance.
- Transportation to medical appointments.
- Lost wages for time out of work related to the illness.
- Death benefits and funeral expenses to surviving family members of a person who dies as a result of a work-related illness.
An occupational illness can lead to complicated negotiations for a workers’ compensation settlement. By nature, many of these illnesses result in long-lasting or life-long conditions, and you don’t want to be shortchanged on the compensation you deserve.
It’s crucial that before you agree to a settlement, you work with medical and financial experts to know for sure what the lifetime expenses related to your injury will be. Once you agree to a settlement, you can’t go back and request more if your money runs out — you have one bite at the apple, so to speak.