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Appeals court rules employers must evaluate respiratory safety

Employers in New Jersey and across the United States need to be aware of a September ruling that may affect the health of their employees. The ruling made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for respiratory protection require that all employers must evaluate all respiratory hazards and respond accordingly.

According to the ruling, the court said that employers with potential respiratory hazards must evaluate the workplace and provide a respirator that is appropriate for the use of the employees. The ruling was made in response to complaints reported in 2009 by employees at an Alaskan shipyard. The employees had been offered respirators on a voluntary basis after being told by the shipyard competence person that the air was free from gas.

The air in the shipyard had not been tested for the presence of metals, however, which were present. After having difficulties with breathing, the employees filed a complaint with OSHA. Inspectors issued 13 citations to the shipyard after finding the air to be of poor quality. After 10 years of various appeals, the court made the final ruling. OSHA is encouraging employers to re-evaluate their respiratory testing measures and to respond accordingly.

Employers have the responsibility of providing a safe workplace and safety equipment as necessary. If an employee becomes injured while on the job and the employer fails to take action, a workers' compensation claim may need to be filed in order for the employee to get medical care. A lawyer may be able to help file this claim. In this case, a shipyard employee who became ill due to the poor air quality may be eligible for compensation for medical expenses and lost wages by filing a workers' claim. A lawyer may help file this claim and oversee negotiations as necessary.

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