A significant aspect of our personal and professional identity is our occupation. It is how we earn a living, put food on the table, look after our loved ones, and prepare for sudden times of distress. Since a major chunk of our day is spent catering to responsibilities at the workplace, its ambiance and environment impact our psychological and physical well-being. Every occupation comes with demands of its own. But certain jobs like construction, mining, farming, metal and furniture making, nursing, or other positions in the healthcare force require workers and employers to observe immense caution. Individuals in these professions must work around live organisms, patients with severe sickness and spend time around toxic chemicals, carcinogens, radioactive fumes, and heavy machinery. All of which are factors associated with many illnesses and injuries.
Occupational Hazards and Compensation
Any illness, disease, or injury resulting from occupational exposure to hazardous physical, chemical, and biological agents is defined as an occupational illness. An example of a chronic disorder caused by repeated workplace exposure to asbestos is mesothelioma. The material is commonly used in construction due to its durability, strength, and resistance, properties that make it beneficial yet lethal. When degraded, it generates toxic fibers that, if inhaled, can trigger mutations, disrupting healthy cells and leading to malignant pleural mesothelioma cancer. Since the sickness can be attributed to the working environment, victims have a right to demand compensation as per existing policies.
The government has enforced many laws to protect workers and instill a sense of responsibility amongst employers. Organizations are required to prioritize the safety of their employees, provide appropriate personal protective equipment, and abandon all operations that pose a fatal risk. Failure to do so makes the institute liable to a fine given to the victim. This legal aid is intended to help the victim seek proper medical care, manage their expenses, and reduce financial burden during a time of recovery.
Filing a compensation claim against higher authorities can feel daunting, which is why often employees stay quiet due to fear of retaliation. However, suppose your organization has breached the duty of care and failed to maintain a certain standard of safety. In that case, it’s your right to call them out for their negligence. For your ease, we have compiled a basic guide to help answer your questions about the process.
Understand the Law
Today numerous laws exist to hold organizations and employers accountable for their negligence. The most prominent is The Occupational Health and Safety Act. Congress created OSHA in 1970 to guarantee healthy and safe working conditions by imposing standards and providing training, outreach, awareness, and assistance amongst employers. The act applies to all 50 US states and covers most private sector organizations, federal agencies, and employees.
Its implementation is crucial for the well-being of the workforce and their families. However, this act does not protect public-sector employees in jurisdictions that don’t have OSHA-approved state plans, farmers with a family business, and self-employed individuals. OSHA protects employees against hazards like:
- Falls and slips
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Injuries from dealing with heavy machinery
- Health issues from working in confined places
- Infectious diseases
- A General Duty Clause is also part of the act. It demands employers shelter their workers from all risks recognizable to a reasonable human being even if they aren’t mentioned.
Reach Out to Your Employer
It’s viable to reach out to an OSHA representative and hold a discussion with your employer. Sometimes mishaps can result from a simple misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, or oversight, so talking it through is the right move. Most organizations want to protect the company name and therefore prefer to stay out of the law and not get caught in legal tangles. If so, the chances are that the issue will be resolved without going to court or trial. A few things to remember when expressing your concerns are:
Know your rights – The more you’re aware of your rights, the more confident and assertive you’ll appear in the conversation. Moreover, you’ll recognize fraudulent behavior and point out whether your company is ignoring the law on purpose or by accident.
Stick to Facts – To appear put together and have a brief conversation with the authorities, be sure to get a hold of all medical records, diagnosis, and history before the meeting. Write down a summary of the incident that caused the illness or injury and the actions that led to it. Put forward every bit of relevant data like dates and figures to strengthen the grounds of your claim.
Be Professional – Filing a complaint can be stressful, but emotional outbursts or loss of temper won’t do you any good. Practice your presentation beforehand. This way, you’ll know what to say and can present your case with ease and calm.
Consult a Solicitor
How your case goes ahead depends largely on the employer’s attitude to liability and causation. While some prefer to manage things calmly, others retaliate, refusing to take the complaint seriously and demoting or firing the victim. In such scenarios, there’s no choice but to take legal action. But before doing so, reach out to a reliable solicitor who can assess your incident and inform you whether or not you have the right grounds to sue your company.
If they believe that your claim will be allowed to proceed, they will guide you, discuss further steps, inform you of your legal options, and represent you in court.
For your case to be taken seriously, you must have factual data and physical evidence. It must show that an individual or group breached the duty of care, causing harm that could otherwise have been avoided. Gather documentation that reinforces your side of the story like company policies, offer letters, performance reviews, memoranda, emails, and employee handbooks. Collect data on the incident and associated events, including their time date and others’ names. Having sufficient evidence that backs up your complaint and proves negligence on the employer’s end will only strengthen your claim. You must prove:
- That the employer owed you the duty of care
- Event during which duty of care was breached
- Medical diagnosis from a professional proving victim was injured
- Proof that the injury was the result of workplace hazards
Most compensation cases never make it to court and are settled amongst both parties’ lawyers. But sometimes, due to the defendant’s lack of cooperation, the victim has no option but to take matters to trial. It would help if you had a credible, trusted lawyer by your side, as the success of any claim depends on the attorney presenting it. They will fill the relevant forms, manage documentation, collect evidence, medical history, lab work, and testimonies from medical professionals. They’ll also train witnesses, if any, to construct an indisputable lawsuit. Know that this process is lengthy and complex. It’ll take up a lot of your time and financial resources.
Once the trial date is set, formal discussions initiate between the two parties. During this time, your lawyer will be speaking on your behalf, discussing potential settlement offers to ensure that you attain the best deal on the table.
Matters of health shouldn’t be taken lightly. If your well-being was at stake due to your employer’s negligence, don’t hesitate to reach out to an OSHA representative. You deserve to be rightfully compensated for the pain you have endured, whether emotional or physical. Moreover, you protect other co-workers who could be at the same risk as you by speaking up.
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