Workers’ rights include protection against mercury hazards

It is surprising how many workers nationwide are unaware of hidden dangers that they are exposed to during every shift they work. One of the most basic of workers’ rights is the right to a safe workplace environment. However, workers are often oblivious of odorless and invisible aerial substances that pose significant dangers.

A business owner in Colorado reported that he uses sophisticated equipment to measure microscopic levels of airborne mercury at industrial sites. The acceptable level of mercury exposure according to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Measuring the mercury level enables employers to protect workers, and the man says owners of industrial companies have strict safety training programs and protective equipment to prevent even minor exposures.

However, he reports that he has measured 30 times the acceptable mercury levels in dentists’ rooms where employees and members of the public — including children — move about, entirely unaware of the dangers to which they are exposed. Mercury particles become airborne mostly when fillings are drilled by a dentist, allowing those nearby to inhale the particles. According to OSHA regulations, employees in dental offices must be provided with safety data sheets on all chemicals kept on the premises and the risks of mercury contamination, which is said to comprise half of all dental amalgams.

A woman in another state worked as a dental assistant for 24 years and ended up sick and disabled for 15 years. When mercury poisoning was diagnosed, she started receiving chelation treatment — a process by which a synthetic chemical solution is injected into the patient’s bloodstream to rid the body of heavy metals. Colorado workers in dental offices may be suffering similar consequences of mercury exposure. Workers’ rights allow them to pursue compensation for medical expenses and lost income by filing benefits claims with the workers’ compensation insurance program. It is often difficult to determine the onset of an occupational illness, and the guidance of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney may prove to be helpful.

Source: Miami Herald, “Tests suggest mercury in air at some dental clinics”, Greg Gordon, Jan. 5, 2016

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