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Making Coffee: A Work Comp Claim?


Workers in the coffee industry face potentially harmful lung exposure. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a comprehensive article ("Gasping for Action" ) highlighting the negative health effects resulting from a chemical-diacetyl-released during the coffee roasting process. The article discusses air sampling tests at coffee roasting facilities revealing chemical concentrations significantly above federal safety standards.

Some experts believe that exposure to diacetyl can result in hugely harmful and irreversible lung disease. According to the article:

"Inhaling diacetyl has proved deadly. Diacetyl attacks and obliterates the lung's tiniest airways, causing a disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. As the body tries to heal, scar tissue builds up and blocks the airflow. The damage is irreversible."

If a worker experiences permanent lung damage from a workplace exposure, there is a potential for a worker's compensation claim. Under the Wisconsin worker's compensation law, if an exposure was a material, contributory causative factor (as little as 5%) in the onset or progression of the health condition, the worker has a claim. A medical physician must provide this causation support. Based on the Journal Sentinel article, it appears the science can establish a causal link between diacetyl exposure and a permanent lung condition (though there may be a distinction between naturall-occurring vs. artificially synthesized diacetyl).

Workers with occupational exposure claims are eligible for the same types of benefits as those with traumatic injuries. That means an occupational exposure claimant can receive wage loss benefits (temporary total disability), permanent partial disability, and medical expense payment. Significantly, if an occupational exposure permanently restricts a worker's lung and pulmonary functions (resulting in the need for permanent limitations and an inability to return to the workplace), a loss of earning capacity claim exists.

If a coffee worker is experiencing lung or breathing difficulties, it is wise to consult with a physician immediately to discuss their medical needs and whether the workplace exposure is playing a harmful role.

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