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Chemical Exposure: Devastating Consequences

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Chemical exposure in the workplace can have an insidious-yet devasating-effect on a worker. In a wide-ranging article, the New York Times presented an in-depth view of chemical exposure at furniture factories in North Carolina: "As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester" The article focused on the questionable ability of OSHA to regulate workplace chemicals, as well as the personal (and neurological) toll caused by such exposure.

Somewhat absent from the discussion was a focus on workers' compensation benefits for these workers. Occupational exposure is not limited to repetitive back injuries or other orthopedic conditions. While soemtimes more difficult to detect or pinpoint, exposure to serious chemicals in the workplace can result in health consequences for the exposed worker. In Wisconsin, for example, an injured worker can bring a claim for the medical effects caused by exposure to workplace chemicals. These occupational exposure claims ,if supported by a medical physician, entitle the injured worker to benefits under the Wisconsin worker's compensation act. Pinpointing the precise chemcial causing the exposure can be difficult, but a worker can attempt to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the employer that identifies chemicals/toxins being used. Presenting that information to a qualified physician can assist in determining causation.

In many cases, a worker can experience a permanent sensitization to certain chemicals-precluding the ability to continue working at the same employer or facility. In these scenarios, a worker may have the right to bring a claim for a loss of earning capacity or even be retrained into a new field that avoids the exposure.

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