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Los Angeles Workers' Compensation Law Blog

4 workers killed by chemical leak, 1 injured

In California, workplace accidents can involve many types of dangers in addition to the classic equipment or fall hazards. As illustrated by a recent and sobering case out of Texas, workers are sometimes killed or injured while working around and with hazardous substances, such as chemicals.

The incident in Texas occurred at a DuPont chemical plant outside of Houston on Nov. 15. At least five workers were exposed to a chemical used in insecticides, fungicides and as an agent to add smell to natural gas. Neighbors to the plant indicated they had smelled a chemical smell. DuPont officials apparently told local law enforcement authorities that the chemical dissipates quickly in air and was harmless.

The dangers of asbestos in the workplace

California workers may benefit from learning more about the dangers asbestos exposure can present at the workplace. The microscopic particles that make up asbestos are easily inhaled and cause asbestosis, an inflammatory condition in the lungs that may lead to scaring, coughing and shortness of breath. The primary symptom of asbestos exposure is shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include tightness in the chest, loss of appetite, chest pain, persistent cough accompanied by mucus or a dry cough accompanied by sounds from the lungs.

Exposure to asbestos may also cause lung cancer or other similar problems. Researchers have discovered an association between asbestos and cancer located in the bladder, brain, kidney, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Even though federal regulations have minimized its use in recent years, asbestos can still be found in many household items and within many commercial buildings.

Alleged drunk driver hit and killed construction worker

According to the California Highway Patrol, a suspected drunk driver struck and killed a construction worker in the early morning hours of Oct. 27. The accident took place around midnight in a construction zone on eastbound Highway 68 in Salinas. The family of the construction worker, who was employed by Bay Area Traffic Solutions, may be entitled to benefits under workers' compensation. The driver was taken into police custody on suspicion of DUI. He was booked into the Monterey County Jail.

The driver reportedly drove through the cones marking the construction zone, passed another vehicle and struck the construction worker, according to officers. The driver allegedly did not stop and continued on for around half a mile. Witnesses stayed with the driver until emergency personnel arrived at the accident scene.

Herniated cervical discs and workers' compensation

Injuries to the back are not uncommon in the workplace. People in California who hurt their backs at work may be eligible for workers' compensation to cover their expenses during recovery. One potential back problem workers could develop is a herniated disc. As workers age, they might become more susceptible to this type of injury.

A herniated cervical disc could cause a range of sensations in the arms or shoulders, and in rare cases in the legs as well. These sensations might include pain, tingling or numbness in the affected area. A difference in strength or reflexes could indicate a disc herniation. The symptoms occur because a displaced disc has slipped out of alignment and is pressing against nerves. Nerves are responsible for sending messages throughout the body, such as letting the brain know that an area of the body is experiencing pain or discomfort. Since discs reside between the spinal vertebra and nerves travel from the spinal cord throughout the body, pressure from a disc might register as pain somewhere nearby.

Workers say aerial chemical spray made them sick

A group of construction workers in California say they were sickened after being sprayed with pesticides. The incident took place in Sutter County in July when a helicopter pilot who was conducting aerial agriculture spraying flew close to a construction work site. The 10 workers who were affected by the pesticide spraying say they suffered from chemical pneumonia, continue to experience migraines and now require inhalers.

The same group of workers sustained further workplace injuries in September when a plane dropped whitewash on a walnut orchard near their work site. After visiting the hospital, three of the men obtained medical documents stating that they had suffered from chemical exposure. According to the group, chemical mist from the plane drifted over to their work area.

Back problems and workers' compensation

As many as one million workers report experiencing back pain annually, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Back pain is the second leading cause of people missing work. Around $11 billion is paid out to cover workers' compensation expenses for back pain alone. California workers might be interested to know that the tasks people perform at work are thought to be a significant factor in the development of back problems.

Around 60 percent of injuries to the lower back are believed to be caused by overexertion. Excess stretching of the back muscles could lead to muscle strain or a pulled muscles. Strain is the most common issue. However, OSHA has identified several work-related risk factors for lower back injury. Some of the most dangerous factors include poor posture, falls, repeated back trauma, performing heavy physical work, and improper movements, such as lifting or carrying objects. People who have to lift heavy objects could be at a greater risk for injury. Once injured, muscles and connective tissue are more susceptible to another injury.

Injured California workers may be eligible for compensation

When a California worker is injured while on the job, their employer is obligated to provide workers' compensation benefits regardless of if the injuries occurred over an extended period of time or because of a single event, such as falling off a ladder. It's important for California workers to be knowledgeable about the benefits they can potentially receive.

If an illness or injury happens while working, blood tests, medicine, doctor visits and other medical expenses might be paid for by the employer. If a worker suffers fatal injuries, their family members or loved ones may be eligible to receive death benefits.

Employee compensation following construction injury accidents

All California employers are required by law to provide a nonhazardous environment for their employees, yet accidents still occur. This is especially true in the construction industry, where injuries may be caused by dangerous site conditions, heavy equipment, construction tools or repetitive motion required by the work. Those who have been injured while working construction may not even know who is responsible, which can make pursuit of workers' compensation benefits more difficult.

In addition to the general contractor and the site owner, there may be subcontractors and independent contractors associated with a job. Any of these parties may potentially have responsibility for an injury to a worker. The attorneys and staff at Dixon & Daley, LLP, have experience pursuing recovery for injured construction workers. We understand the operation of workers' compensation law, and its interaction with the other laws of the state of California. We will examine the facts of your injury case to identify the proper avenues for recovery.

OSHA and hazardous materials

California workers may benefit from reviewing some of the U.S. Department of Labor's information on handling chemical hazards and toxic substances. These materials are considered to cause physical hazards that include corrosion, reactivity and flammability. The materials are often hazardous to the health as well, typically by increasing carcinogenicity, sensitization and irritation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the authority responsible for ensuring employers adequately inform workers about the safety risks located in workplace.

OSHA also requires employers to provide the appropriate equipment to properly protect workers from hazardous risks. The agency's Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to display information that identifies and explains the safety risks associated with hazardous chemicals used at the workplace. In addition, importers are required to provide safety data sheets, evaluations and information on any hazardous chemicals in shipment. Employers are required to properly train workers to safely use hazardous materials and protect themselves from suffering preventable harm as well.

Medical care under California's workers' compensation law

Workers who have been injured on the job are entitled to evidence-based medical treatment under California workers' compensation laws' doctors must recommend and perform medical treatments that have been proven scientifically effective for the work injury or illness. To that end, medical professionals rely on California's medical treatment utilization schedule, which provides guidelines regarding the type, intensity, frequency and duration of treatment for a large number of work injuries.

The guidelines were made part of the workers' compensation law in 2003, but they apply even to cases that were settled before then. The result is that the MTUS may be utilized in any case, but the assigned claims administrator may continue payment for treatments the patient has become accustomed to for his or her injury in cases decided before 2003.

Dixon & Daley, LLP

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