Reducing respiratory illnesses in the workplace

Studies have repeatedly found that effective respiratory equipment can help to protect workers in Pennsylvania and around the country from potentially dangerous airborne contaminants, but ensuring that employees actually wear the safety equipment available can be extremely challenging for employers. Workers often complain that breathing equipment is restrictive and uncomfortable, and fears about diseases that may not develop for years or decades if at all are frequently not enough to convince them to put up with discomfort at work.

According to data from the National Safety Council, toxic substances in the workplace contributed to more than 15,000 lost workdays and over 100 worker deaths in 2012. While respiratory aids may protect workers from airborne contaminants, they are often not worn because they can make breathing more difficult or impair vision. This has led efforts to improve the ergonomics of breathing aids to focus on making the equipment lighter, smaller and less intrusive.

While manufacturers experiment with new materials and designs, employers can do their part to reduce work-related illnesses by ensuring that safety equipment is functional, sanitary and available in sufficient quantities. These goals are best achieved by conducting regular inventory checks and putting efficient cleaning and maintenance protocols in place. The amount of contaminants in the air can also be reduced by improving ventilation in the workplace and ensuring that HVAC filters are changed on a regular basis.

Illnesses caused by toxic substances in the workplace can be extremely worrying for employers. While the scope of work injuries is generally limited to those in the immediate area, hazardous substances have the potential to impact most or all of the workforce. Attorneys can often be of assistance by collecting the appropriate medical documentation to be submitted as part of a claim for workers' compensation benefits.

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