Most employees know that an on-the-job injury may qualify them to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The coverage, however, extends to more than just the typical work-related musculoskeletal or event-related trauma injuries. Employees who can prove that their illnesses are the result of toxic exposure in their workplace may also apply for benefits.
Although employers owe a duty of care to prevent workers from exposure to harmful chemicals, unexpected and single-event leakages may still occur. Long-term workplace exposure — possibly extending over a period of years — may also cause chronic or severe ailments.
Immediate symptoms related to a toxic exposure event
Employees may become quickly aware of a leaked airborne toxin when the immediate symptoms first appear. In one such case at a busy Mercer County warehouse, employees began to experience a burning sensation in their throats and eyes soon after a robot device caused a toxic substance to enter the workplace.
As reported by ABC News, an automated machine punctured a canister containing a hazardous substance and allowed its contents to leak. More than two dozen employees required immediate medical attention or hospitalization.
Due to the obvious cause-and-effect nature of the event, it does not require a strong argument to prove the employees’ illnesses were work-related. Under such circumstances, workers who require medical treatment or time off to heal may not expect much difficulty in qualifying for workers’ comp.
Occupational illnesses that develop over time
Unlike injuries or illnesses connected to a particular workplace event, an occupational illness that results from long-term toxic exposure could require proving a connection between the job and the ailment. New Jersey law requires workers’ comp applicants claiming occupational illnesses to provide proof that their workplace environment was the primary factor in causing the ailment.
In some cases, long-term exposure to toxic substances in the workplace may cause heart- or respiratory-related symptoms similar to those associated with “ordinary illnesses of life.” A toxic work environment may, for example, manifest itself as high blood pressure, emphysema or cancer. Documentation from a medical practitioner may help prove the connection between a claimant’s condition and his or her workplace environment.