If you follow the news about workplace safety or workers’ compensation, you might get the idea that many employers simply refuse to follow the safety practices required for their industries. For example, we recently discussed the shocking lack of chemical safety compliance in the nail salons of New York City, which may be symptomatic of a nationwide problem.
Yet while you may hear some employers complain that OSHA standards are too strict or expensive to comply with, it’s important to know that many employers care very much about keeping their employees safe. One example that recently came up is the flexible polyurethane foam manufacturing industry, which was recently profiled in Occupational Health & Safety magazine.
What is the flexible polyurethane foam manufacturing industry doing that’s so impressive?
The profile contains a detailed discussion of how chemical hazards are handled in the industry, so we recommend you read it. The major point, however, is that manufacturing flexible polyurethane foam, or FPF, requires a chemical reaction involving a number of hazardous chemicals, including toluene diisocyanate or TDI, a known lung irritant powerful enough that it can cause occupational asthma. Moreover, once that type of asthma is contracted, the worker probably won’t be able to continue working around chemicals at all, so it could be a career-ending illness.
Despite the ubiquity of TDI in FPF manufacturing facilities, however, workers in the FPF industry have a lower rate of asthma than the general public.
If you work in an industry where chemical exposure is an issue, OSHA provides an easy-to-use, online compilation of chemical-safety best practices. In general, however, the three main components of workplace chemical safety are:
Communication: Information about chemical hazards and the appropriate protective measures is required to be disseminated to all workers.
Regulatory limits on exposure levels: OSHA sets enforceable rules for total permissible exposure limits, measured in eight-hour, time-weighted averages, along with ceiling and peak limits.
Workplace controls: OSHA catalogs a variety of appropriate engineering and work practice controls, which must be the primary means of limiting employee exposure to chemicals. If these are not feasible, personal protection equipment such as respirators must be used.
If you have been injured or sickened by exposure to chemicals at work, a lawyer experienced in workers’ compensation law can answer your questions.