Under Illinois law, workers are entitled to compensation arising out of and in the course of employment. According to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, this includes injuries that are caused either wholly or partially by an employee’s work. Exactly what constitutes work, though, and when is an injury caused by work? These are straightforward questions that aren’t always easy to answer.
A recent report issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows just devastating a workplace injury or illness can be to the individuals and families affected. An investigation into these injuries conducted National Public Radio and ProPublica found that severe injuries and illnesses send a huge percentage of lower and middle class workers into poverty. The studies highlight the impact of an attack on worker's compensation payments in a number of states. Since 2004, 33 states have made changes to the law that make it harder for workers who are injured or become sick at work to get financial assistance.
The recent push to eat more natural, whole foods has done little to harm the makers of chemical food additives. Chemicals used to simulate flavors and fragrances, including flavors such as strawberry, apple and butter, are a multi-billion dollar industry. The chemicals used have generally been tested for consumer safety, but they are not always tested for the safety of workers. A person eating the final food product might ingest a small amount of an additive. A worker adding the chemical in massive quantities on a daily basis might inhale or otherwise ingest much larger amounts. In some cases, the dangers posed by these chemicals only become clear after many workers get sick.
As some of you may already know, asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is not only heat resistant but does not conduct electricity either. It’s because of these properties that it has been used as an insulation material across the nation in homes, schools, and factories for several decades.
When dealing with cases involving possible exposure to dangerous or deadly toxins and materials, prevention is key. However, when it comes to asbestos, many of those affected learn too late just how dangerous exposure to materials containing asbestos material can be. For one man, his attempts to alert his employer to dangerous working conditions related to asbestos exposure may have ultimately resulted in his termination.
As we discussed last month, the devastating effects of asbestos exposure on Americans was in no way limited to people who worked for the companies producing it or in high-risk occupations. All too often, asbestos was spread around the environment in the form of cheap, recycled materials used for ground fill and paving projects. Others who never worked directly with asbestos were exposed through dust brought home on the clothing of family members who did -- and that exposure was often enough to cause mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.
Here in Illinois and in most states, virtually all workplace injuries and occupational diseases are handled through the workers’ compensation system, which has special rules. Workers who develop job-related illnesses or injuries are covered by workers’ comp regardless of whether their employers were negligent. Balancing that is the “exclusivity rule,” which means these cases must be handled through workers’ comp; workers can’t sue for negligence.
The fact that microscopic asbestos fibers caused mesothelioma and asbestos-lung cancer may have come as a shock generations ago, but scientists and safety regulators have known for decades that other airborne particulates carry the same risk. With substantial profits to be gained through the use of these products, however, there continues to be resistance to regulation -- or even to appropriate safety measures being taken.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, just completed a major study on the risk faced by firefighters of contracting mesothelioma and other cancers. Unfortunately, the study found the group suffers from all forms of cancer at a higher rate than the national average. And, for the first time, the study documented the long-suspected increased risk of mesothelioma among firefighters.