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Could your workplace literally make you sick?

You may have heard the phrase "toxic workplace" and assumed it meant something like "toxic relationship" -- until you started experiencing symptoms. The truth is, unaffected people seldom realize that a variety of work activities can literally expose them to an injury or illness they wouldn't otherwise have gotten.

Can my job duties make me seriously ill? Yes. Frustratingly, one fairly common way for this to happen is that you get exposed to toxic materials. Exposure to certain toxins, including chemicals, certain hazardous dusts, fumes -- even sick people, if you work in the healthcare field -- can make you sick, too. Toxic exposure result in immediate harm such as a chemical burn, or it could increase your chances of developing an occupational disease, such as:

  • Dermatitis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Infectious diseases
  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders

How common are illnesses from toxic exposure in the workplace? Extremely common, unfortunately. In fact, some estimate that as many as 10 percent of all patients who are treated in a medical setting end up being diagnosed with work-related toxic exposure and/or a job-related sickness.

How can I avoid getting sick from workplace toxins? Awareness, training and consistent use of PPE. If your work exposes you to anything you're unfamiliar with, be sure to assess your risk. For many potentially hazardous activities, warning signs are required by law. Read them and follow the instructions. Also, read over the material safety data sheets (often referred to as MSDS) for any chemicals being used. If personal protection equipment is recommended, get training on how and when to use it -- and then do so consistently, even if it's awkward.

Am I covered by workers' comp if I get sick from toxic exposure at work? Generally yes. If you're an employee and your illness was caused by -- or made worse by -- exposure to a workplace toxin, you should be covered. However, workers' comp insurance companies often try to deny these claims using a variety of theories, so it's best to discuss any occupational illness claim with an attorney who has experience handling these complex claims.

In an upcoming post, we'll discuss some specific examples of toxic-exposure-injuries and occupational diseases, how they are caused, and what you can do to protect yourself. 

Source: FindLaw, "Toxic Exposure in the Workplace," Accessed March 25, 2015

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