OSHA is charged with making sure that a workplace is safe for employees.
It is often true that both OSHA and state workplace safety enforcement agencies focus heavily on accidental injury to the detriment of preventing occupational disease and illness. North Carolina has been recognized as a state with a high incidence of both injury and accidental death. Our Spartanburg workers’ compensation attorneys are dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of occupational disease and illness.
According to a recent report published in honor of Memorial Day by the National Council on Occupational Health and Safety, Federal OSHA rules and enforcement focus almost exclusively on safety conditions and hazards that may result in falls and other immediate bodily injury. Focusing on accidental injury ignores some of the other serious hazards in the workplace including toxic substances that can result in loss of vision, burns, permanent brain damage and death.
Recent headlines have pointed to a North Carolina operation that manufactured cushions using a highly toxic chemical known as n-propyl bromide (or nPB). Where OSHA has the ability to regulate workplace conditions for safety to prevent falls, fires equipment injuries and other accidents, it has no standards to limit exposure to the chemical nPB. When workers at the plant were exposed to the chemical, they were made sick and many of those suffered permanent injury and disability.
Despite reports that the chemical was causing serious harm to workers, the North Carolina OSHA agency failed to take any action to prevent additional injury. According to a local physical who treated the poisonous workers said that many were unable to stand on their own. They had to be supported by family members. Even when the company lost employees to disability and the disease, they continued to hire additional workers without any oversight from the government.
While OSHA is responsible for ensuring workers have safe and healthy working conditions, the North Carolina cushion plant story illustrates that the agency is failing. In this case, OSHA had inspected the agency over the course of several years. Even finding exposure, it only fined the company modestly and saw no changes after the inspection. Workers continued to fall prey to the exposure to toxic nPB.
In addition to occupational hazards such as accidental injury or fall, workers, employers and government agencies should be more aware of the potential for occupational disease and illness that can be attributed to toxic exposure and hazards. Employees are also at risk of permanent damage to sight or hearing.
An occupational disease is any chronic ailment caused by work or occupational activities. Many instances of occupational disease are discovered after more than one employee fall victim to the disease or illness. Examples of occupational disease include lung disease or asbestos poisoning, black lung, or occupational asthma. Employees have been known to contract skin diseases, including eczema when exposed to certain chemicals in industries like catering, healthcare, printing, construction, mechanics or hair styling. Other forms of occupational disease include Carpal tunnel syndrome and lead poisoning.