Legal Implications of AFFF Exposure in Occupational Settings: Employer Responsibilities

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Occupational exposure to Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has gained increasing attention due to its potential health risks and environmental impact. As per a study published in the National Library of Medicine, the use of firefighting foams has led to the contamination of numerous public water systems throughout the United States.

AFFF, which is widely used in firefighting and industrial settings, includes perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), which have been associated to a variety of negative health impacts. In this article, we will explore the legal implications of AFFF exposure in occupational settings and discuss the corresponding responsibilities of employers.

Duty to Provide a Safe Workplace 

Employers are legally obligated to maintain a secure workplace in accordance with regulations governing occupational health and safety. The U.S. Department of Labor mandates that employers provide employees with a workplace that is free from major dangers. 

The workplace must adhere to all Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) safety and health regulations. Recognizing the dangers associated with AFFF exposure is the first step in managing them. 

Employers should conduct regular risk assessments, implement control measures, and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to mitigate employee exposure. Failure to fulfill this duty could result in legal consequences, such as fines, penalties, or civil liability.

Medical Monitoring and Workers’ Compensation 

In cases where employees have been exposed to AFFF, employers may have a legal obligation to provide medical monitoring. This involves regular health check-ups to assess potential adverse health effects and detect early signs of related diseases. 

Furthermore, if an employee suffers health issues due to AFFF exposure, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Employers should be aware of their responsibilities to give affected staff members the necessary medical care and compensation.

Compliance with Environmental Regulations 

AFFF contains PFAS, which are persistent organic pollutants regulated under environmental laws. Employers must comply with applicable regulations concerning the use, storage, disposal, and release of AFFF. 

This may involve obtaining permits, conducting environmental impact assessments, implementing containment measures, and establishing proper waste management protocols. Non-compliance with these regulations can lead to legal repercussions, including remediation costs, fines, and potential criminal charges.

Duty to Inform and Train Employees 

Employers have a responsibility to inform and train employees about the potential risks associated with AFFF exposure. This includes educating workers on the proper handling, storage, and disposal of AFFF, as well as the use of appropriate PPE. 

Employers should provide comprehensive training programs, safety data sheets, and clear communication channels to ensure employees are aware of the hazards and know how to protect themselves. Failure to provide adequate information and training can result in legal claims from affected workers.

Liability and Legal Remedies

If employees suffer adverse health effects due to AFFF exposure, they may seek legal remedies against their employers. This can include claims for breach of duty, negligence, or failure to provide a safe working environment. Numerous individuals have already launched an AFFF lawsuit against manufacturers of AFFF products, alleging that these companies knew about the health risks associated with PFAS but failed to adequately warn users or provide sufficient safety measures.

Employers found liable may also be dragged into these lawsuits. Depending on the verdict, they may be required to compensate affected employees for medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering. 

TruLaw notes that in some cases, class-action lawsuits may be pursued. To mitigate liability risks, employers should prioritize risk assessments, implement effective control measures, provide training, and stay updated on regulatory requirements.

The firefighting foam lawsuits are very active on a larger scale as well. According to a recent update on AFFF lawsuits shared by Top Class Actions, the state of Kentucky is also pursuing legal action against chemical companies such as 3M, Chemours, and DuPont for their alleged responsibility in contaminating the state’s environment with PFAS. The pollution is thought to have happened as a result of the use of AFFF in firefighting operations. 

Reporting and Record-Keeping Requirements 

Employers are required to abide by AFFF exposure reporting and record-keeping regulations. This includes monitoring data, documenting incidents, exposure levels, and medical records. 

Failure to maintain accurate records or report incidents promptly may result in legal consequences, including regulatory penalties and difficulties defending against potential lawsuits. Employers should establish robust record-keeping systems and ensure timely reporting to relevant authorities, as well as maintain confidentiality and privacy of sensitive employee information.

Final Word

The legal ramifications stemming from AFFF exposure in the workplace underscore the need for employers to assume accountability in ensuring a secure occupational setting. Employers bear the responsibility of identifying and managing hazards associated with AFFF, providing adequate training and protective measures, and adhering to environmental regulations. 

Neglecting these obligations can lead to legal repercussions, including fines, penalties, and liability for employees’ health-related consequences. Employers must prioritize risk assessment, implement preventative measures, maintain meticulous records, and remain up-to-date with regulatory mandates to minimize potential legal liabilities and safeguard the welfare of their workforce.

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