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Does workers' compensation cover injuries from poor air quality?

Most people picture construction workers laboring outside, enjoying the sunlight and fresh air. However, simply being outside does not protect individuals from dangerous particles in the air, and many workers in the construction industry must also work in small, enclosed places where there is inadequate ventilation. Workers' compensation can help Illinois workers who have been harmed by poor air quality at work get the care and compensation they need.

Construction sites are especially likely to have particulate material in the air, which workers might then breathe in. This is true whether the project is a new build, renovation or complete demolition. Nontoxic dusts -- such as wood, drywall, ductwork and more -- can be extremely irritating when inhaled, and might exacerbate or contribute to lung conditions, like chronic obstructive lung disease or asthma. Asbestos, lead and other toxic dusts can have even more profoundly negative long-term effects.

Volatile organic compounds are also commonly found on construction sites. Things like paints, adhesives, varnishes, carpeting and more are all considered VOCs. These materials are known to exacerbate asthma, cause headaches, induce drowsiness and cause nose, eye and throat irritation. Long-term exposure might also be quite dangerous.

Man-made materials are not the only threat to air quality. Biological matter can carry bacteria, putting workers at risk for developing serious illnesses. Spaces that are contaminated by microbes often require extra precautions when undergoing renovation or demolition; otherwise the resulting biological dust may spread more easily through the air. Worksites contaminated with animal feces also require special precautions to prevent serious airborne illness.

Illinois employers must provide adequate safety gear for their workers. For the construction industry, this means outfitting workers with more than just hard hats and harnesses. Precautions should be taken to limit unnecessary exposure to poor indoor air quality, and necessary safety gear should be provided when limiting exposure is not possible. Unfortunately, even when all precautions are taken, workers may still be seriously injured by toxic particles in the air, and require medical treatment and time away from work. In such cases, workers' compensation can provide coverage for medical care and wages, allowing victims the time to recover.

Source: cdc.gov, "Maintaining Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) during Construction and Renovation", Accessed on Nov. 6, 2017

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