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Furniture builders in North Carolina suffer illness in workplace

Furniture manufacture is one of the industries in the state of North Carolina that employs many people. While it provides a good living for many, workers could experience an unintended side effect. Some who are exposed over a long period of time to the chemical n-propyl bromide, also known as nPB, are suffering from neurological damage. The chemical is found in the glue used to attach foam cushions.

Some workers who have experienced injury or illness as a result of exposure to the toxic material have successfully received workers' compensation benefits. These workers have suffered from medical problems including:

  • The inability to stand or difficulty walking
  • Numbness in extremities
  • Spinal pain

The issues are due to damage done to their nerves.

Workers continue to be exposed to the chemical in large part because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not created guidelines regarding exposure limits to the chemical. Regular readers may aware of the role OSHA plays in keeping workers safe throughout the nation. In addition to creating safety standards, it also conducts investigations workplaces throughout the nation. These investigations are conducted for a variety of reasons including complaints about safety issues.

As a result of one of these complaints, one North Carolina furniture maker was the subject of an investigation in 2011. The investigation found that many were being exposed to levels of the chemical deemed to be dangerous. As a result, OSHA provided suggestions on how to improve the work conditions. None of the suggestions were implemented and workers continued to become ill.

Unfortunately, because OSHA has yet to adopt standards regarding the levels of chemicals workers can be exposed to it is unable to enforce any of the suggestions it has made regarding keeping workers safe. Such enforcement is often in the form of fines. Until this happens, workers in the furniture factory will likely continue to fall ill.

Source: The New York Times, "As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester," Ian Urbina, March 30, 2013

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