Your Workplace May Be Safe But Are Your Neighbor’s?

grain siloGrain dust, though it might sound innocent enough, can cause serious lung damage and long-term injury. One man who didn’t even work at a grain facility but who worked nearby found this out the hard way when he developed chronic lung conditions as a result of working so closely to the plant.

Timothy Plotner worked as a forklift operator at Metal Prep for fifteen years- between 1995 and 2010. Part of his job required him to unload rolls of steel and then transport them to the Metal Prep facility to be coated. Though the forklift cab had an air filter, he obviously had to get in and out of the cab a lot to oversee the unloading and talk to supervisors, bring things in and out of the building, etc. In 2004 he started to experience breathing problems which he originally thought were due to grain dust. He continued to work, using a respirator provided by his employer. He also started to go to the doctor for this condition and his physician Dr. Scott sent him over to an allergist, Dr. Levy, who determined that he had farmer’s lung. This condition is triggered by an allergic reaction to grain dust in the environment. When he tried to file for workers’ comp benefits from his employer they denied him- saying that it was not their fault but the facility down the road, Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADM). Metal Prep said that his employment at their facility was not the cause of the injury- while his injury occurred in the course of his employment it did not stem from his employment.

The Department of Labor also denied his request so he went to Chancery Court in Tennessee. ADM is across the street from where Mr. Plotner worked all those years. ADM stores grain in silos and elevators, then loaded onto barges- a process that creates a thick and significant amount of dust that clouds over the Metal Prep facility, covering cars in the parking lot and even covering the workers’ clothes. During the trial Plotner said that he would sometimes have to wait it out before the dust cleared and he could get on with his work. At the time of his testimony Plotner had been put on oxygen 24/7 and doctors said he couldn’t do anything but sedentary work- his condition would likely get worse over time.

The court decided that he was permanently and totally disabled, and determined that Metal Prep was on the hook. They appealed and the appeals court determined that the risk was connected to his employment and there is no way he would have been exposed to an equal hazard outside of his job. They affirmed the decision that Metal Prep would have to pay for his benefits.

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