Pennsylvania workers who develop occupational diseases due to asbestos exposure may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits help workers get back on their feet and help with their post-illness finances. However, the laws regarding workers’ compensation and asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, vary by state and can be complicated. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has been closely monitoring the amount of exposure to asbestos since the 1970s and regulated both federal and state asbestos measurements. There have been over 20,000 deaths caused by asbestos exposure and the number is only growing. Although asbestos exposure usually involves the lungs, there are also other parts of the body that can be affected causing death tolls to increase. OSHA is working to prevent deaths caused by this toxic chemical.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral found in rocks and soil. Due to its affordability and versatility, asbestos was used in many consumer and industrial products in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S. during the 20th century. After it was discovered that exposure to asbestos caused mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer, it became strictly regulated. Despite this, many U.S. industries still work with asbestos-containing products.
Due to its lengthy latency period, people often do not exhibit symptoms of mesothelioma until decades after their initial exposure to asbestos. Latency periods for the disease typically range from 20 to 40 years, but can last up to 71 years, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. The number of mesothelioma cases continues to increase as the effects of previous asbestos exposure surface. Once the disease is discovered, it works rapidly and causes sudden fatalities. For those who smoke tobacco, there is a greater risk of developing respiratory problems and a greater risk for mesothelioma.
Who is at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
More than 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center (MAAC). Early diagnosis can improve overall prognosis. Therefore, workers who have been exposed to asbestos should be aware of the symptoms of mesothelioma. Although there are no signs of asbestos exposure before the disease develops, symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Respiratory problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal swelling
- Bowel obstruction
- Weight loss due to loss of appetite
- Pleural plaques: This is the most common sign of significant exposure to asbestos. These are deposits of hyalinized collagen fibers in the pleura, which is the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs. These plaques are not cancerous but are an indicator of mesothelioma.
There is currently no cure for mesothelioma and the MAAC reports that most patients live between six months and two years after diagnosis. Mesothelioma has been directly linked to asbestos exposure reported by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Exposure can also cause other cancerous and noncancerous diseases. Other cancerous disease that may present themselves are Laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer. Some noncancerous asbestos-causing diseases include asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, pleuritis, and atelectasis. In addition, stomach cancer and colorectal cancer are at an increased risk in asbestos conditions but do not have a direct link to one another.
Workers in certain industries are at higher risk for developing mesothelioma than others based on the amount of asbestos to which they were exposed and duration of their asbestos exposure. Most people who worked heavily with asbestos during their career are at an extreme risk of developing mesothelioma. No matter what kind of asbestos you were exposed to, diseases can form and death an occur.
Those at an increased risk include:
- Construction workers
- Paper mill workers
- Power plant workers
- Shipyard workers
- Steel mill workers
If you were exposed to asbestos, it is best to get a screening from your physician as this could save your life. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends workers get a chest x-ray and pulmonary function test every three to five years.
How Much Asbestos is Safe?
No amount of asbestos is healthy to inhale. There is no evidence to support a safe level of asbestos and any amount of inhaled asbestos can cause cancer or other illnesses. It is also possible for a one-time exposure to cause health issues.
Workers’ Compensation for Asbestos Exposure
If you have been exposed to asbestos, the first thing you need to do is to contact your health care professional to determine how much damage has already occurred. If your exposure has caused long-term effects, you may be entitled to legal action and compensation. Asbestos exposure is covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act). It is considered an occupational disease, therefore the time limit for filing a claim is longer than the normal 120-day deadline for work injury claims.
Generally, occupational diseases must develop no more than 300 weeks from the worker’s last exposure to the hazard, or their last date of employment, to be compensable. Workers who file later than 300 weeks after their last exposure are generally not eligible for medical benefits, disability, death benefits, or any type of workers’ compensation.
However, due to the long latency periods of diseases associated with asbestos exposure, courts may be willing to make an exception to the 300-week time limitation. In the recent case of Tooey vs. AK Steel Corp., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether individuals who contracted mesothelioma more than 300 weeks after their last date of employment were entitled to workers’ compensation under the Act. The Court held that those who file occupational disease claims for asbestos exposure outside of the 300-week window are not necessarily barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Therefore, Pennsylvania workers who discover they have an occupational disease due to asbestos exposure more than 300 weeks after leaving their jobs may still be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers may also be able to recover additional damages, such as pain and suffering from any third parties, such as manufacturers or suppliers, who are responsible for their development of the disease.
How to Report Asbestos Exposure
Reporting asbestos exposure in the workplace needs to be done immediately once it is discovered. If you wait to report exposure, it is likely that more people will become sick or not know that they have been exposed. Keeping a workplace safe should always be a main priority and that only occurs when you are proactive about reporting illnesses.
To report your illness, document where you worked and the site of the exposure. You should include the date and time of initial exposure and any surrounding areas that may have been affected. This will help your workplace attempt to seclude the area and warn others who worked in the contaminated space. Also, talk to your other coworkers about their account of the asbestos problem to resolve the issue quickly.
How to Receive Legal Help
If you have been tested positive for asbestos exposure, a workers’ compensation lawyer will help you receive the compensation you deserve and the financial capability to pay for your medical needs. A workers’ compensation lawyer will file a lawsuit against either your employer or the product that gave you the asbestos exposure. Exposure to asbestos is a very scary situation and can cause a lot of stress and worry for those who have come in contact with the toxin.
If your employer is not following appropriate standards for lawful work practices, this could be another reason to file a lawsuit. Employers are responsible for maintaining a healthy and safe workplace. If this is not upheld, your rights as a worker has been violated. These types of violations could lead to asbestos or other chemical exposures.
OSHA has put into place three different sets of standards for employers to follow. These standards aim to protect workers from asbestos exposure and other workplace illnesses. These standards include different types of work environments and rules, such as:
- A permissible exposure limit (PEL) of asbestos in the workplace as 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air
- An assessment of asbestos amount in the workplace before employees begin work
- Periodic checks of asbestos limits
- Appropriate signage for where asbestos is located
- Medical examinations for workers who have been highly exposed to asbestos
Safe workplaces are important to the safety of workers and employers. If you feel as though your rights to a safe workplace have been violated, OSHA recommends reviewing workplace standards to decide if you have appropriate reasons to file a lawsuit. The following are some of the standards described under OSHA:
- Receiving training about workplace hazards, conditions, and any asbestos areas or materials
- Review and understand past workplace injuries and illnesses
- Receive adequate safety gear and protective equipment
- File a complaint with OSHA if you feel as though your workplace is not keeping up with appropriate standards.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Help Workers Obtain Benefits for Asbestos Exposure
If you developed a disease due to workplace asbestos exposure, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We can evaluate your case, explain your legal options, and fight to recover maximum compensation in your case. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW today.
Located in Philadelphia, Bensalem, Lansdowne, and Reading, we proudly represent workers in Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County and throughout Pennsylvania, including those in the communities of Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester and Wynnewood.