Chemical Exposure at Work: Options Under Workers' Compensation

Workers made ill by exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace are nearly always covered under their state's workers' compensation system.

By , Attorney · Lewis & Clark Law School

Most states treat a harmful exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace as a workers' compensation claim. These sorts of injuries can be caused by a one-time significant exposure or by prolonged exposure over a period of time.

If you believe you were, or currently are, exposed to toxic substances at work, you should first talk to your doctor. Your doctor can determine if you have any physical conditions resulting from potential chemical or toxin exposure.

Once you know you've been affected by toxic exposure, report this to your employer immediately. You should then begin the process of filing a workers' compensation claim.

Common Types Toxic Exposures in the Workplace

Toxic chemicals that might be present in the workplace include asbestos, benzene, arsenic, ammonia, chloroform, zinc, lead, mercury, iodine, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, uranium, and many more. Any of these chemicals can cause serious bodily harm to those exposed.

Chemicals can enter the body through a number of ways, including:

  • skin contact
  • breathing in
  • eating or drinking, or
  • injection.

No matter how the toxin enters the body, it can spread through the bloodstream to the entire body.

Special Rules for Asbestos Exposure

If you've been exposed to asbestos and are worried about the possibility of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related problems, you might be able to sue for damages rather than being forced to file a workers' comp claim. To learn about the unique legal issues involved with asbestos litigation, read Workers Exposed to Asbestos: Laws and Legal Remedies.

If My Employer Took Precautions, Do I Still Have a Workers' Comp Claim for Chemical Exposure?

The fact that your employer took all reasonable precautions does not eliminate your right to a worker's compensation claim if you were exposed to toxic chemicals at work. Workers' comp recovery is not based on fault.

All that is required for a workers' compensation claim is that you are exposed to the dangerous substance in the course of your employment, and that the exposure caused an illness or other bodily harm. By contrast, proving a personal injury claim requires that you show that your employer was negligent.

What to Do If You Were Exposed to Toxins at Work

If you believe you might have a workers' compensation claim due to a toxic chemical exposure at work, first talk to your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your condition and may refer you to a specialist trained in evaluating workplace toxic exposures.

If your doctor determines you have an illness or condition due to a chemical exposure at work, contact your employer immediately. Your employer will provide you with the forms necessary to file a workers' compensation claim. In many states, your doctor can also fill out certain forms to report a workplace injury, thus starting your workers' compensation claim.

You, your doctor, and your employer should determine a plan for eliminating, or possibly just limiting, your workplace exposure to the toxic chemicals to a greater extent.

Types of Workers' Comp Benefits Available for Toxic Exposure

As part of your workers' compensation claim, you will be eligible to receive certain benefits. Benefits vary from state to state and depend greatly on the circumstances of each case. These are a few of the types of benefits you might be eligible to receive:

  • Temporary disability benefits. These benefits compensate for the loss of income during the period you are receiving treatment and unable to work.
  • Permanent partial disability or permanent total disability benefits. These benefits compensate for permanent bodily impairment due to the toxic exposure.
  • Reimbursement of medical treatment. Diagnostic studies, medication, physician visits, and equipment could all be covered.

Contact a Workers' Comp Attorney If You Have a Toxic Exposure Claim

A workers' comp attorney can help you in a number of ways. They can gather evidence to prove that your illness was caused by a toxic chemical exposure in the workplace. They can also arrange for sampling or testing at your work, solicit opinions from toxic chemical experts, or take other steps to bolster your claim.

An attorney can help you assess what benefits you might be eligible for, and can advocate on your behalf to give you the maximum benefits possible. The sooner an attorney is able to begin this process, the better for your case.

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