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Occupational Cancer – Hazards in the Workplace Environment

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) it is estimated that “approximately 20,000 cancer deaths and 40,000 new cases of cancer each year in the U.S. are attributable to occupation.” Occupational cancer, or workplace cancer, are malignancies resulting from a person’s workplace or job and arise from exposure to toxic substances and carcinogens. Some of the most common occupational cancers which may spawn occupational hazard lawsuits include: mesothelioma (caused by asbestos exposure), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) (caused by benzene exposure), liver cancer (vinyl chloride exposure), kidney cancer (coke oven exposure at steel plants), and bladder cancer (work in rubber, chemical and leather industries). All of these occupational cancer origins have been proven in multiple occupational hazard lawsuits in the last half a century.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) was established in 1971 to help control occupational exposures to harmful substances, including agents that cause workplace cancer. However, the standards set by OSHA are not purely health standards. While health is taken into account in setting permissible exposure levels (“PEL”) for workers, OSHA must also consider the economic effect of the standards on the regulated industry. Occupational hazard lawsuits have shown some manufacturers and industries have failed to warn their employees of the risk of workplace cancer simply because of the economic implications (purchasing safety gear, mandatory employee resting/breaking periods, higher “danger pay” salaries, etc.).

Failure to Warn Workers of the Risks of Exposure

There are effective tools to help prevent occupational cancer. First, manufacturers must place warnings on dangerous products to alert workers of cancer risks posed by a product. In many lawsuits for occupational hazards is it shown during the lawsuit that many companies have historically failed to warn about the cancer causing risks of their products. A prime example is the failure of asbestos companies to warn employees in the workplace of the cancer related hazards associated with asbestos products. This failure to warn is the basis of many occupational hazard lawsuits brought against the asbestos industry. Second, respiratory protection can help protect workers from exposure to harmful respiratory carcinogens.

Asbestos Exposure Cases -- Mesothelioma

However, a worker must be warned about a hazard to become aware of the need to wear respiratory protection. Many hazardous substances, like asbestos, pose invisible hazards. Asbestos is an example of a substance that has no natural warning properties. You cannot taste asbestos, you cannot smell it, and it can be present in harmful amounts that cannot even be seen by the naked eye. Even if the chemical is not odorless or is in plain view, the unfortunate truth is that many people who contract cancer from their workplace knew they were exposed to the chemical but were unaware of cancer causing risks associated with it.

The study of occupational cancer dates back to the 1940s and earlier. A seminal book was published in 1942 by cancer researcher, Wilhelm Heuper, entitled “Occupational Tumor and Allied Diseases”. In that book, Dr. Heuper concluded that asbestos was a likely cause of lung cancer. Occupational cancer continues to be studied and is a primary area of study for NIOSH. (See

If you have developed cancer from a workplace or a job, you should have your case reviewed by an experienced occupational cancer attorney to discuss filing an occupational hazard lawsuit. At LK, we have successfully represented workers exposed to cancer causing agents in the workplace for more than 25 years. The occupational cancer attorneys at LK work with established scientists in fields including toxicology, epidemiology, industrial hygiene, occupational medicine and genetics.

Occupational Cancer FAQs

How Common is Occupational Cancer?

Occupational cancers have impacted the lives of many workers in a wide range of industries. These cancers are the result of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals present in the workplace. It is estimated that 666,000 deaths are the result of occupational cancers each year globally, double the number of deaths from accidents, a problem of epidemic proportions.

What is the Most Common Type of Occupational Cancer?

Lung cancer is reported as being the most common type of occupational cancer, with asbestos exposure accounting for up to 85% of these cases, as reported in a study published by the National Library of Medicine. Many workers in a vast range of industries were exposed to asbestos, years later developing mesothelioma, a lung cancer directly related to asbestos exposure in shipyards, the construction industry, in the military, electrical industry, and others.

What Are The Occupational Risks for Cancer?

Some occupations carry a higher risk of occupational cancer. Workers who are exposed to asbestos, benzene, pesticides, herbicides, paint, exhaust, or toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, coal mining, metal production, the oil and gas industry, firefighting, or while serving in the military are at risk of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Are Workers at Manufacturing Plants at Risk?

Modern manufacturing can prove to be very dangerous for employees, who are exposed to nanomaterials that cause cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Welders exposed to fumes are at risk of developing cancer, and employees working in the plasticizer and flame retardant production industries may have suffered exposure to toxins that are known to cause cancer.

Can Exposure to Diesel Exhaust Cause Occupational Cancer?

Many industries rely on diesel engines, including transportation, mining, construction, agriculture, and manufacturing. Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust is linked to lung cancer and respiratory diseases and conditions.

Are Firefighters at Risk of Occupational Cancer?

Firefighters work in a dangerous industry at the best of times. A fire may ignite substances such as plastics or synthetics that release harmful gases when burning. Asbestos from burned out and damaged buildings also cause dangerous exposures to firefighters. They are also exposed to diesel exhaust and soot in the firehouse, and have often regularly used firefighting foam, which contains chemicals called PFAS and PFOA, known carcinogens. These chemicals settle in the blood, kidneys, and liver, and are linked to several cancers, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and others.

Which Work Sites Carry the Highest Risks of Causing Occupational Cancer?

Any worker in the construction or demolition industry, which is estimated to be in the range of 1.3 million people, may have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is one of the most dangerous cancer-causing materials that was heavily used in a vast range of industries. Construction workers exposed to asbestos may develop mesothelioma, larynx, lung, or ovary cancer years after being exposed. Other industries include nail salons, auto garages, and oil refineries.

How Do I File a Claim for Occupational Cancer?

If you have developed cancer due to toxic exposure in your work environment, you have the right to seek benefits through the workers’ compensation system in your state. The benefits paid through these systems may be far less than you or your family need, as only a percentage of your wages will be paid. In many cases, a third party lawsuit can be filed against another party to recover far higher levels of compensation. If you have developed a work-related cancer, connect with an attorney to evaluate your case to determine whether any third party could be held liable.

How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?

If you were diagnosed with cancer related to exposure to toxic substances in the workplace, you will have limited time to file a claim. The statute of limitations in your state restricts the time allowed to hold another party accountable in these cases. Once diagnosed, it is advised that you seek legal advice immediately, as if you miss the filing deadline, you will lose the right to seek compensation in most cases.

For more information, please call (800) 315-3806 or submit a confidential email inquiry.


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