Filing for workers’ compensation after toxic chemical exposure
Chemicals are all around us. It’s unavoidable.
However, some chemicals are dangerous to human health and must be handled cautiously. These hazardous chemicals can get into your body through inhalation, ingestion or absorption.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemical exposure is among the top 5 causes of workplace fatalities.
Like all states, Georgia workers’ compensation laws dictate that most workers who suffer job-related injuries, including exposure to harmful and hazardous chemicals, must be compensated.
Most dangerous occupational chemicals
Toxic chemicals are substances that pose a significant risk to your health or the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the industries with the highest risk of toxic chemical exposure are truck transportation, chemical manufacturing, utilities, petroleum and food manufacturing.
Here is a list of some of the most common toxic chemicals handled in these workplaces:
- Carbon monoxide
- Liquefied petroleum gas and diesel fuels
- Welding fumes
- Uranium and other radioactive substances
- Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides
- Detergents and cleaning products
This list is a short snapshot of the more than 62,000 toxic chemical substances recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Types of chemical exposure injuries and illnesses
Toxic chemicals have different toxicity levels. The extent of injuries suffered depends on the toxicity and the length of exposure. This may result in either acute or chronic health hazards. Acute injuries happen rapidly after exposure while chronic injuries occur after repeated exposure.
Below are some common injuries due to chemical exposure:
- Allergic reactions
- Skin and lung cancer
- Respiratory complications
- Neurological damage
- Irritation and eye damage
- Parkinson’s disease
Workers’ compensation for toxic exposure in Georgia
Toxic exposures are a bit tricky. Some injuries due to exposure to toxic chemicals take weeks, months or even years to manifest. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure chemical safety in the workplace. For that reason, workers are entitled to workers’ compensation if you suffered those injuries.
Although you usually can’t sue your employer for work-related injuries, you can go after a third party, such as a manufacturer. However, you will need to find the right personal injury attorney to help you.
Biggest obstacles for getting workers’ compensation for toxic exposure in the workplace
Despite guidelines in place for the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace, accidents still happen. This is why workers’ compensation laws exist—to help settle medical bills and cover lost income while recovering.
Sadly, not all deserving workers get the compensation they deserve. It may be due to tactics by the insurer or a mistake by the plaintiff.
Here a few of the obstacles you may have to overcome:
1. Communication breakdown
You are expected to report to your employer when you suffer an injury while on the clock. In turn, your employer is supposed to relay the same information to the workers’ compensation insurer. Other parties involved are the case manager and the examining doctor. A copy of the medical report should be given to both the insurer and the employer.
Sometimes such delays are unwilling insurance companies to frustrate the worker. You need an experienced injured worker lawyer to keep everyone on their toes for a speedy settlement.
2. Unwitnessed workplace injury
It is not uncommon for unwitnessed injury claims to be denied. However, there are other steps you can take to avoid this pitfall. When reporting the accident to your supervisor, an accident report will be made. This document can help with your case going forward. Also, make sure you see a doctor for a medical report.
If the injury resulted from a work-related vehicle accident, get a police report to back up your claims. As long as you give an honest and detailed account of the accident, you will have no problems.
3. Inconsistent medical records
You must be consistent throughout the process. Your claim officially begins when you file form WC-14 with the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation. The information you fill that form should be consistent with all other accounts of the incident. Make sure it matches with the accident report and the medical exam report. Any discrepancies may lead to denial of the claim.
4. Getting fired or leaving before you file a claim
It is harder to prove you were exposed to chemicals at work when you are a former employee. It may also be dismissed as a revenge claim. Although Georgia employers can’t technically fire you for filing a workers’ comp claim, they can get away with it if they say your firing had nothing to do with the claim.
The good news is that it doesn’t affect your benefits if you get fired after filing a workers’ compensation claim. The remedy for this is to file your claim as soon as possible.
5. Employer fails to file a claim
Under Georgia workers’ compensation laws, any business with 3 or more employees must have workers’ compensation insurance. It is also the employer’s responsibility to file the claim with the State Workers’ Board (SWB) after being notified of the injury. Refusal to file a claim is punishable under the law. Such an employer will be penalized $100 for every instance of failing to file. You can still submit the claim yourself by contacting the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
When to seek help from a Georgia workers’ comp attorney
Exposure to chemical hazards in the workplace can lead to life-long complications. In some cases, it may lead to disabilities or even death. Nearly all the pitfalls and obstacles to getting compensation can be avoided if you consult a worker’s compensation attorney.
It doesn’t matter if you think it was partly your fault, but don’t let your employer discourage you from seeking compensation. Consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the merits of your case.