Toxic fumes and vapors may cause serious harm if inhaled. Many manufacturing and industrial processes involve hazardous chemicals that produce toxic gases or fumes as a byproduct. A worker’s exposure to toxic fumes or gas may cause respiratory illness. Long-term exposure may cause additional harm, such as nervous system disorders and cancers of multiple organs.
Workers in Pennsylvania who become ill from workplace exposure to toxic fumes may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The trusted workers’ compensation lawyers at Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C., located in Harrisburg, PA, help workers who have suffered workplace exposure to harmful fumes seek the full benefits they are due after suffering an occupational illness.
An injury or illness caused by inhaling toxic fumes is considered to be work-related if the exposure either caused the condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing condition. If you have concerns about your employer’s response to your request for workers’ comp benefits, contact a toxic fumes injury attorney at Calhoon & Kaminsky by calling (717) 695-4722 or contacting us online. We have recovered more than $221 million for hard-working Pennsylvanians in the Harrisburg and Hershey area. We will stand up for your rights as you deal with a workplace illness or injury.
Occupations at Risk of Exposure to Inhalable Hazardous Substances
Workers in numerous occupations are at risk of injury from exposure to toxic substances. Working in confined spaces without proper ventilation may increase the risk of injury related to exposure. Among them are:
- Construction trades workers exposed to toxic fumes and dusts containing toxins such as lead and asbestos
- Oil and gas industry workers exposed to flammable toxic chemicals used in fracking and hazardous vapors off gases from liquids in temporary storage tanks, tanker trucks and in liquid waste
- Food and beverage processing workers exposed to certain flavoring chemicals that can cause bronchiolitis obliterans (aka “popcorn lung”)
- Workers in machine shops and auto body shops who generate harmful metal fumes and gases during the welding and metalworking process. Prolonged exposure to welding fumes may cause lung damage.
- Hairdressers and nail technicians exposed to harsh chemicals in hairdressing products and nail polishes and hardeners
- Healthcare, animal care and agricultural staff exposed to biological agents
- Housekeepers, janitors and other maintenance workers exposed to cleaning agents containing ammonia, ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite and/or trisodium phosphate
- Welders, mechanics, and engineering workers exposed to paints, solvents, oils, grease, exhausts and other fumes.
If you have been diagnosed with a respiratory disease or other illness caused by exposure to hazardous fumes in your workplace, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Worker’s comp benefits include payment of all medical bills, replacement of a portion of lost wages and additional payments for certain illnesses or injuries.
A workers’ compensation attorney at Calhoon & Kaminsky can review your medical diagnosis and discuss your eligibility to file a workers’ comp claim with the PA Workers’ Compensation Bureau.
Common Causes of Toxic Fume Injuries in the Workplace
For hazardous substances to have a toxic effect on a worker’s body they must first pass from the work environment to the individual’s internal organs.
The common routes of exposure are:
- Inhalation, with toxins entering the body through the lungs and respiratory tract
- Dermal absorption, with toxins being absorbed through the skin
- Ingestion, with absorption through the wall of the gastrointestinal tract.
In occupational settings, inhalation exposure is considered the most likely means of toxic exposure, followed by dermal contact and then ingestion. A workplace atmosphere is considered harmful to employees’ health whenever it lacks adequate ventilation or does not contain adequate oxygen.
Toxic fumes are one of several forms of respiratory hazards potentially found in a workplace:
- Fumes are produced when a metal or other solid vaporizes and the molecules condense in cool air. Examples are metal fumes from smelting or welding. Fumes also may be formed from such processes as plastic injection or extrusion molding.
- Dusts and fibers are solid particles formed or generated from solid materials through mechanical processes, such as crushing, grinding, drilling, abrading or blasting. Examples of toxic dusts and fibers are lead, silica, asbestos and rubber dust.
- Mists are tiny droplets of liquid suspended in the air. Examples are oil mist produced from lubricants used in metal-cutting operations, acid mists from electroplating and paint-spray mist from spraying operations.
- Gases are materials that exist as individual airborne molecules at room temperature. Examples are welding gases, such as acetylene and nitrogen, and carbon monoxide (exhaust) produced from internal combustion engines.
- Vapors are the gaseous forms of substances that are normally in a solid or liquid state at room temperature and pressure. They are formed by evaporation. Most solvents produce vapors. Examples include toluene and methylene chloride.
- Smoke is a collection of tiny solid, liquid and gas particles. Smoke occurs when there is incomplete combustion and the fuel does not burn completely. Smoke may contain hundreds of different chemicals and fumes, but visible smoke is mostly soot, tar, oils and ash.
The gases and hazardous chemicals that may be encountered and inhaled in a workplace accident are too numerous to list. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards contains information on several hundred chemicals commonly found in the workplace. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Substances Inventory lists information on more than 62,000 chemicals or chemical substances.
Injuries from Inhaling Toxic Fumes on the Job
Working in inadequately ventilated areas or entering areas of exposure with improper or no protective equipment are typical causes of exposure to toxic fumes and inhalation injuries. Accidental spills, explosions and fires can result in exposures to airborne toxins.
Inhaling toxins may result in such injuries or illnesses as:
- Airway obstruction and asphyxiation
- Smoke inhalation
- Pulmonary edema
- Fibrosing alveolitis
- Lung cancers
- Lung diseases, such as asthma
- Cancer in other parts of the body
- Nervous system diseases
- Disorders of reproductive organs.
Chemical manufacturers and importers are required by law to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce and to prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their customers.
All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately. The training for employees must also include information on the hazards posed by the chemicals in their work area and the proper protective measures.
Under OSHA guidelines, employers should first employ atmospheric control measures such as ventilation or enclosure of the operation to avoid employees’ inhalation of toxic fumes. When effective engineering controls are not feasible, or while they are being instituted, employers should provide workers with appropriate respirators. Employers are further responsible for establishing and maintaining respiratory protection programs as prescribed by OSHA regulations.
Seeking Workers’ Compensation for a Toxic Fumes Injury
It is important to report a workplace injury or illness diagnosis to your employer as soon as possible and to ask the company to initiate a workers’ compensation claim. Follow company policy for reporting your illness, such as meeting with an HR staff member and completing a form. Make sure that you have filed a written notice and description of your injury.
As you obtain medical care, be sure to follow all doctor’s orders. Failing to keep follow-up appointments or skipping physical therapy sessions may be used by an employer or insurance administrator to deny your benefits.
Benefits should begin within about 21 days of reporting your need and continue until the physician of record on your case declares you have reached maximum attainable medical recovery and can return to work. If you will not recover well enough to return to gainful employment, you should be eligible for total permanent disability benefits.
If your employer does anything to dispute or disrupt your workers’ comp benefits, you should seek legal assistance. A skilled workers’ comp attorney from Calhoon & Kaminsky can review your injury, identify the benefits you should be receiving and explain your legal options for seeking all the benefits you are due. Our team can handle the details of your claim, including filing paperwork and representing you in appealing a denied claim, so you can concentrate on your medical recovery.
Contact Our Toxic Fumes Injury Lawyers
Calhoon & Kaminsky, P.C., can help you prepare a workers’ compensation claim and seek full monetary benefits available by law if you have suffered an injury or illness from inhaling toxic fumes while on the job in Pennsylvania. We can gather medical records and hire medical experts to provide testimony to support your claim if it is necessary to appeal a denied claim.
If you have been diagnosed with a workplace injury and are not receiving workers’ comp benefits, contact us now. You have up to three years from the date of diagnosis to file for benefits for an occupational illness. Our firm has recovered millions of dollars in workers’ compensation benefits for injured workers. Phone us at (717) 695-4722 or complete our contact form online for a free, no obligation legal consultation today.