New OSHA Construction Site Safety Rule Targets Occupational Diseases

Boston’s construction industry saw jobs decline by more than 20 percent during the recession.  However, all signs indicate that Boston’s construction industry is once again booming, with 8,700 construction jobs added between August 2012 and August 2013.  With more construction projects both underway and in the planning phase, this profitable yet dangerous industry is likely to receive more attention for construction site safety practices.  The United States Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a new construction site safety rule aimed to prevent silica exposure to construction workers.  Silica exposure is known to cause  severe lung diseases characterized by shortness of breath, cough, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin).

With more construction projects underway and more construction workers being exposed to job site hazards, this new OSHA construction site safety rule is timely.  The rule lowers the legal limit of silica dust that construction workers are permitted to breath by implementing new practices, such as wet cutting and improvements to ventilation.  OSHA estimates that nearly 2.2 million workers in the United States are exposed to silica dust, most of which are employed in the construction industry.

Workers who are diagnosed with lung diseases that are caused by working conditions are entitled to Massachusetts workers’ compensation benefits.  If the lung condition causes a worker to require medical treatment, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company is responsible for 100% of the resulting medical bills, meaning the worker is not responsible for paying co-payments and deductibles which they otherwise would have to pay by using their health insurance.  If the work-related lung disease prevents a worker from doing the essential functions of his job, then that worker is entitled to weekly workers’ compensation disability benefits (temporary total disability [60% of Average Weekly Wage for up to 3 years], permanent and total disability [66.7% for life] or partial disability {60% of difference between pre-injury average weekly wage and post injury wages, for up to a maximum of 5 years]).  In addition to medical and weekly monetary disability benefits, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer may be responsible for payment of permanent loss of function benefits.

Because workers’ compensation benefits are limited, it is often in the best interest of a worker who has been exposed to harmful working conditions that caused lung disease to hire an attorney to investigate other possible sources of compensation.  These other sources of compensation include social security disability benefits and third party negligence claims.  If someone other than the workers’ employer was responsible for causing the conditions that led to the harmful exposure, then the worker may be entitled to up to 100% of lost wages and cost of medical care, plus pain and suffering compensation via a third party negligence claim against the offending party.  Such claims are often brought against the sellers and manufacturers of products that expose workers to materials or conditions that are known to cause occupational diseases.  Third party negligence claims allow an injured construction worker to pursue a claim for full damages, which could replace future earnings loss caused by the diagnosis of an occupational disease.

Workers who have been diagnosed with an occupational disease that requires medical treatment or is preventing them from doing their job should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to protect their rights to receive necessary medical treatment and wage loss benefits.

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