Workers' Compensation Newsletter

Workers' Compensation Coverage for Second-Hand Smoke

Employees who sustain injuries on the job may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. Workers’ Compensation claims for injuries or illnesses due to exposure to second-hand smoke in the workplace have become much more successful in recent years. The success of these claims usually depends on the facts of each case, as well as the applicable laws and procedures.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Medical experts claim to have established that exposure to Environment Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is a health risk. They point out that ETS contains nearly all the same toxins and carcinogens as smoke inhaled by the actual smoker. In addition, ETS has been linked to many diseases, from allergies and asthma to heart disease and cancer.

As with any Workers’ Compensation claim, the employee must often prove an actual injury and that the injury was related to workplace conditions. Many state Workers’ Compensation laws allow recovery if the workplace environment, in any manner, contributed or otherwise adversely affected an underlying condition. Lung cancer, emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis are all injuries for which employees have received Workers’ Compensation benefits, and all have been linked to ETS.

A Successful Workers’ Compensation Claim for ETS Injury

Many states are increasingly beginning to allow recovery for ETS injuries. Under Workers’ Compensation laws, success for such injuries may depend on many factors, such as:

  • Demonstrated sensitivity to ETS
  • Diagnosis of a medical condition known to be caused or aggravated by ETS
  • A confirmed medical connection between the illness and ETS
  • Limited exposure to ETS outside of the workplace
  • Significant exposure to ETS within the workplace

Effect of “Smoke-Free” Workplaces

Companies are increasingly enforcing “smoke-free” workplace policies, which may make it more difficult to prove claims related to exposure to ETS. However, since ETS-related health complications may take time to appear, claims can still be based on past exposure.

In a New Jersey case several years ago, an employee who shared an office with a chain-smoker for 26 years and developed cancer was able to recover Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Standards and Procedures Continue to Evolve

Workers’ Compensation awards for ETS-related injuries or illnesses are fairly new. As such, standards and procedures continue to develop. Employees who believe they have been injured and want to bring a claim should consult a local Workers’ Compensation attorney familiar with evolving and varying state provisions and procedures.

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