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In her April 10, 2017 Op-ed piece, NY Times contributor Rachel Cernansky quoted OSHA’s estimation that “chemical exposure kills 50,000 American workers a year, and sickens more than 190,000.” Worse, she cited experts who call these numbers “gross underestimates.”
The numbers will shock those who may have thought that poisonous workplaces were a thing of the past, and that governmental regulation provided adequate safeguards for the health of industrial workers.
Sadly, that is not the case, for at least three reasons.
First, due largely to corporate deceit and weak government oversight, a vast number of chemicals have gone totally unregulated. These include highly toxic compounds used in the plastics and coating industries.
Second, those limits that OSHA has imposed on chemical exposure are far too high. “Permissible” concentrations in the workplace for materials including lead, benzene, and various hydrocarbons found in petroleum-based and synthetic metalworking fluids (e.g., “cutting oils”) are set at levels above those which can make workers sick, often with fatal illnesses.
Third, affected workers, their unions and representatives face significant legal obstacles in seeking remedies. These include workers compensation related limitations on lawsuits, and evidentiary standards that complicate proving that a disease was caused by a workplace exposure.
A first step in addressing this serious problem occurs with articles like Cernansky’s. Only public awareness of what is actually happening in American workplaces, and the political pressure that may come with it, can start the process of reform.
In the meantime, courtroom battles will be necessary to bring the force of the common law to bear on the issue. Our workplace toxic tort attorneys can help you decide on a course of action if you believe you have suffered a serious illness as a result of chemical exposure on the job. We can be contacted here.