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Track which employees have access to hazardous areas

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

If your organization manufactures products, your employees probably come in contact with hazardous chemicals or solvents from time to time. Of course, you follow OSHA guidelines for exposure limits and make sure employees on the production line use adequate protective gear.

But what if an employee who works in the front office decides her lung or other health problems are work related and files for workers’ compensation? Would you be able to easily show that she couldn’t have been exposed to the chemicals she now claims caused her illness or injury?

If not, it’s time to do something about it. Take steps to limit nonproduction employees’ exposure by restricting where they can go. No office worker should be allowed to enter potentially hazardous areas without required safety gear. Track access to the area, either electronically or with a sign-in sheet.

That way, there will be convincing evidence whether an employee possibly could have been exposed or injured.

Recent case: Stephanie Hardy worked for Masterbrand Cabinets and filed a workers’ comp claim after she came down with an extremely rare form of pneumonia. Several doctors examined and treated her and concluded that the cause was internal. That is, the pneumonia wasn’t related to any external exposure.

But one doctor said he believed the cause was external exposure to chemicals. He zeroed in on her employer, reasoning that her ailment might have been caused by exposure to chemicals used in the cabinet finishing process.

There was only one problem with that theory: Hardy worked in an office, not on the production line. The office had a separate ventilation system, and there was no proof that Hardy ever visited the factory facility. The case was dismissed. (Hardy v. Masterbrand Cabinets, No. COA07-1195, North Carolina Court of Appeals, 2008)

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