Are Employers Focusing Enough on Preventing Workplace Illnesses?

When employers take steps to try to protect workers, often the focus is on preventing accidents that lead to injuries. An accident has an immediate and devastating impact when it occurs and the effects are immediately felt by workers, their families and the employer. However, EHS Today has recently suggested that preventing workplace accidents should not necessarily be the primary focus of employers who want to improve overall safety and work conditions. Instead, EHS Today suggests that the real concern for employers should perhaps be centered on preventing work-related illnesses and exposure to hazardous substances. 1153649_blood_cells.jpg

Our Boston work injury attorneys know that thousands of workers are exposed to hazardous substances and toxins on the job and develop work-related illnesses as a result. We urge employers to maintain a focus both on preventing workplace injuries and on preventing workplace illnesses in order to create the safest worksite possible.

Workplace Illnesses a Major Cause for Concern

According to EHS Today, there are more than 2.3 million workers who die each year across the globe as a result of hazards in the workplace. An estimated 318,000 of these deaths are due to occupational injuries or injuries that happen on the job. The remainder of the deaths result from work-related illnesses. This means that as many as 2.3 million people die each and every year because their jobs made them sick.

Despite the fact that many more people die each year as a result of illness than injury, most workplace safety initiatives focus on preventing workplace accidents. While this is important, employers also need to give equal or greater attention to preventing circulatory diseases and cancers. Together, cancer and work-related circulatory diseases cause as many as 55 percent of all worker deaths worldwide while injuries cause only 18 percent.

Just in the United States alone, an estimated 37,000 to 61,000 people die each year from occupational cancer. This number is inexact and is a large range because it is often difficult to conclusively prove that a particular case of cancer can be tied to a workplace incident or exposure to toxins at work. This is because there are generally many causes of cancers and because cancers develop slowly over time. A worker exposed to a toxin at work could develop cancer five, ten, or even twenty years or more after the initial exposure occurred.

Unfortunately, this long period between toxic exposure and workplace illness is a major part of the reason why employers tend to focus more on resolving immediate situations and preventing accidents that occur and cause injuries right away rather than focusing on preventing workplace exposure to toxins. An employer who has an employee in an accident will have an immediate workers’ compensation claim and an immediate OSHA inspection may be prompted. Exposing workers to a toxin, on the other hand, comes with no immediate consequences.

The problem with this focus on preventing accidents is that work-related illness rates are on the rise in industrialized countries even as workplace injury rates drop due to prevention efforts and workplace safety laws. Employers need to make a commitment to reversing this troubling trend and can do so by taking prevention of workplace illness seriously.

If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim– (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Boston Workplace Dangers Highlighted, Massachusetts Workers Compensation Lawyer Blog, May 13, 2013

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