There shouldn’t be any question: employees in Chicago and throughout Illinois are entitled to a reasonably safe workplace. This right is granted by law in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, otherwise known as OSHA, enforces. Employers who neglect to take the necessary steps to ensure a safe workplace are in violation of OSHA regulations, and workers who are injured on the job are likely eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
With these issues in mind, Chicagoans may be interested in recent studies that point to a silent but nonetheless injurious workplace hazard: dust. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that billions of dollars are lost each year due to diminished productivity and increased medical costs related to poor indoor air quality in the workplace.
If you come to work feeling fine, but later in the day you experience itchy eyes, headaches, chronic coughing, a scratchy throat or sneezing, the problem could of course be mold in the workplace. But one of OSHA’s occupational hygienists says that excessive dust is also a major cause of these symptoms, which could indicate a much more serious medical problem for the worker, such as lung disease.
Dust may consist of pollen, insect parts, skin scales, different kinds of dirt and tiny fibrous particles, to name a few items — all of which have the potential to contribute to work-related illness. However, some workers in a dusty environment may not display any symptoms while other workers do. This is because each person’s body reacts differently to different foreign substances, but that doesn’t mean the necessary steps shouldn’t be taken to prevent a work-related illness.
If a worker is exposed to dust for an extended period of time, he or she could experience asthma-like symptoms. The degree to which an employee is affected by workplace dust depends on the person’s individual metabolism and level of exposure.
Workers in the Chicago area who think the symptoms of an illness are due to poor air quality in the workplace should document their symptoms. In doing so, it is important to note the time of day when the symptoms occur and when they stop. Also, having a discussion with your employer about good air quality is an important step to improving the work environment. But if an employer fails to address the problem adequately and the symptoms persist, workers may want to explore their legal options for a workers’ compensation claim.