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Occupational Exposures in Construction

Construction sites in New Jersey are dangerous places. Besides the risk of accidents, exposure to dust, debris, hazardous chemicals, noise and exhaust fumes over the course of time can cause serious permanent injuries. In most cases, if there is a connection between your injury and what you are exposed to, you will be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

You don’t have to show that an exposure at work is the one and only cause of your condition. For instance, if you smoke cigarettes and develop lung problems, an exposure at work can still qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey has ruled that workers who develop a disabling condition as the result of harmful exposures at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. In the case of a firefighter exposed to smoke on the job, the Supreme Court held he was entitled to benefits even though smoking cigarettes was also a cause of his emphysema. In addition to smoking, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorders can result from breathing in dust, debris, smoke and chemicals while working. It doesn’t matter which cause is more responsible for your condition.

The exception to this standard involves cases of occupationally induced heart problems. The exposure at work must be greater than any personal risk factors, like smoking.

The Supreme Court also cited a study of workers exposed to a variety of inhaled materials during and after the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Supreme Court noted that many of the people experiencing breathing problems had normal chest x-rays and normal pulmonary function studies. The Court recognizes that the types of exposures during 9/11 cause breathing problems, despite these normal studies. Many of the same type of contaminants can be found on construction sites throughout the state.

What You Can Do

In the construction industry, you face a very real risk of exposure to dust and debris, such as asbestos, smoke, diesel exhaust, chemicals, noise and any number of other harmful substances. You do not have to provide the scientific connection yourself, but need to be able to provide the basis for the connection. You have to be able to point out what you were exposed to, when you were exposed to it and in many cases, how often the exposure occurred.

You should save any documentation of an exposure. Examples of what to keep include:

  • Formal incident reports – such as being taken to the hospital for breathing problems
  • OSHA reports
  • Air quality studies
  • Noise level studies
  • Newspaper accounts of events such as a building collapse or explosions on a job site
  • Keep your own journal of job sites with bad conditions, including dates and employers
  • Obtain a list of all employers
  • Emergency Room discharge papers.

Memories fade and records maintained by your employer can be lost or disappear. Keeping independent records in a journal or creating a computer file is a good way to ensure important information will not be lost or forgotten. The more details you have, the better.

The mere fact that you are exposed to something harmful does not trigger a right to workers’ compensation benefits. If you develop a disability, there must be a scientific basis that the exposure contributes to a particular disability. Additionally, you will have to be able to show that the specific exposure, such as exposure to asbestos particles, actually occurred at work. You have two years from the date of your last exposure or the date which you had knowledge that your disability was caused by work to file a formal workers’ compensation claim.

If you have developed a condition as a result of an occupational exposure, you should consult a construction accident injury attorney to determine whether you are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. For 75 years, Stark & Stark has represented working families with sound legal advice and guidance when they need a lawyer most. We have a team of Workers’ Compensation attorneys who work tirelessly to protect the rights of injured workers.

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