Many New York residents associate workers' compensation with accidents and injuries, but the program also provides financial assistance to those who become sick after being exposed to toxic substances while on the job. The problem of job-related illness is a growing one, and many safety advocates say that the government is doing far too little to address it. According to federal government estimates, approximately 50,000 workers die each year from illnesses they contracted at work.
Lawmakers have been criticized for starving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of resources and placing the success of the business sector above the safety and welfare of American workers. Observers point out that the regulatory climate is so lax that OSHA sometimes pursues employers under environmental laws rather than safety regulations. They say that the agency takes this path because companies that ignore safety regulations are often heavy polluters and environmental laws provide stiffer penalties.
Asbestos is sometimes cited when the subject of insufficient workplace safety regulations are discussed. The carcinogenic mineral has been banned completely in about 50 countries, but American workers in several industries may still be exposed to it. The fact that so much asbestos remains inside American factories, warehouses and processing facilities is also seen as an example of the interests of business being favored over worker safety.
Workers' compensation claims relating to a workplace injury may be viewed differently by employers and their insurance companies than claims filed by workers who become sick after being exposed to toxic substances. This is because accident claims are limited to those directly involved, but workplace illnesses could lead to a flood of claims as well as possible class action litigation. Attorneys with experience in workers' compensation cases will likely be aware of this, and they may explain to workers who have become sick that the medical evidence supporting their claims will probably be scrutinized closely.