Occupational Disease

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 What is an Occupational Disease?

An occupational disease is an ailment, injury, disease, or medical condition which results from the unique characteristics of an individual’s line of employment. An occupational disease may also be referred to as an occupational illness.

In many cases, a large number of workers who are in the same job or industry will share similar illness symptoms or injuries or they will be diagnosed with the same work-related disease. An occupational disease is often the result of an individual working in unsafe working conditions.

One of the main requirements for an individual to be diagnosed with an occupational disease is that their line of work exposes them to risk factors which are different from those that members of the general public are exposed to.

There are work-related disease laws as well as occupational exposure laws which exist to protect workers. No matter an individual’s line of work, each worker has the right to a safe working environment.

An occupational disease often results in a workers’ compensation claim. It is important to note that these types of claims are different from disability claims.

With an occupational disability claim, an injury or illness is typically the result of long-term exposure to factors in the individual’s work environment, which may include toxic chemicals. In contrast to a disability claim, an employee typically cannot file an occupational disease claim for a one-time traumatic event.

The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration can assist workers with understanding their legal rights and options if they believe they may have an occupational disease. In addition, an individual can contact an attorney for more information.

What are Some Examples of Occupational Diseases?

There are numerous examples of occupational diseases. A work-related disease is most common in an occupation which requires repetitive movements or in a working environment with:

  • Poor air quality;
  • Hazardous chemicals; or
  • Poor lighting.

Occupational diseases may also result from long-term exposure to digital technology screens. The most common, however, involve long-term exposure to a toxic substance, for example, asbestosis and mesothelioma, which are caused by exposure to asbestos.

These two illnesses are often the subjects of occupational disease lawsuits. Other examples of occupational diseases may include:

  • Respiratory illnesses, for example, asthma or bronchitis;
  • Certain types of cancers;
  • Skin diseases, for example:
    • skin cancer;
    • severe sunburn; or
    • eczema;
  • Various types of poisoning, for example, lead poisoning or pesticide poisoning;
  • Lung diseases including emphysema;
  • Cancers or illnesses caused by chemicals such as asbestos;
  • Muscle strain, arthritis, and joint injuries from repetitive motions;
  • Vision and hearing impairment;
  • Skin conditions including:
    • eczema;
    • burns; and
    • blistering which are caused by contact with:
      • chemicals;
      • electricity; or
      • machinery;
  • Back and spine injuries from heavy lifting;
  • Loss of limbs;
  • Head injuries;
  • Neck injuries;
  • Limb injuries;
  • Rarer diseases such as pneumoconiosis, which is associated with coal mining, and byssinosis, which is associated with the cotton textile industry; and
  • Various other injuries or medical conditions.

If a worker is experiencing symptoms which are somewhat commonplace, they will be required to prove that those symptoms were a result of their work and not an unrelated factor. Injuries which are commonly associated with occupational diseases in workers may include:

  • Mining;
  • Factory assembly plans;
  • Animal slaughterhouses;
  • Textile factories;
  • Hairdressing; and
  • Nail salons.

It is important to note that certain occupational diseases may be more severe in certain workers when compared to their coworkers. A worker may not be aware immediately that they are suffering from an occupational disease.

Certain types of work-related diseases may not be discovered until months or even years after a worker has left their position or has retired.

How Do I Know If I Have an Occupational Disease?

In order for an injury, illness, or disease to be classified as an occupational disease, the medical condition must be a direct result of working in the worker’s industry or job. If the individual’s medical condition existed prior to their starting work in a particular industry or if that injury or illness most likely occurred outside of work, it may not be considered an occupational disease.

A medical expert or an employment lawyer may help an individual determine if their medical condition qualifies as an occupational disease.

Can Diseases that are Unrelated to the Work be Claimed as Occupational Diseases?

Typically, a disease unrelated to work cannot be claimed as an occupational disease. The laws which govern occupational disease claims will most likely require that the illness was either directly caused by the type of work or was very closely associated with the nature of the work.

In other words, the illness or disease is required to be a result of the employee’s specific type of work. For example, suppose an employer contracted for painters to paint the inside of the business office and one of the secretaries falls ill as a result of that painting.

The secretary in this example may be able to file a claim for disability but will not be able to file an occupational disease claim because her job is unrelated to the painting. On the other hand, the painter may be able to file an occupational disease claim if they were exposed to toxic paint chemicals as a result of their occupation.

With any occupational disease claim, it is necessary to prove that the disease is more common in a certain line of work than in the general population. If a disease has not been linked to a worker’s job description, they will most likely be required to file a disability claim or a workplace-injury claim instead.

What are Some of the Remedies for Occupational Disease Claims?

There are several types of remedies which may be available in an individual’s occupation disease claim, which may include:

  • Compensation for losses caused by the injury, including:
    • medical bills;
    • hospital bills; and
    • lost wages;
  • Future losses, especially if the occupational disease has reduced the worker’s ability to perform work in the future; and
  • Damages obtained in a private, civil lawsuit against their employer.

In the majority of jurisdictions, the employer has the burden of proof. In other words, the employer is required to prove that the disease was not caused by the job or that the employee was not actually injured.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With an Occupational Disease Claim?

Occupational disease claims may be very complex and are serious in nature. Every claim will be unique because every individual and every line of work is different in some way.

There are numerous steps and court filings required in an occupational disease claim. You will also need to determine if you should file a personal injury lawsuit or a workers’ compensation claim instead, when to file your claim, and how much to request in damages.

To file a claim or a lawsuit based on occupational disease, you will be required to determine if you have an occupational disease and if it is a direct result of your job. It may be possible to file your claim yourself, however, it may be very helpful to consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer if you need assistance with filing an occupational disease claim.

Your lawyer can assist you with filing your claim with a government agency or with the court system in order to recover for your losses. Your lawyer will be familiar with the many requirements and how to best present what is often complex medical evidence to the court or jury.

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