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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.).

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.

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 http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/cancer).

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.

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

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