What to Know About Occupational Diseases

occupational diseases

A worker might have a bad day on the job and end up getting hurt while performing their duties. Acute injuries account for many workers’ compensation claims – slip and fall accidents, and back injuries from lifting heavy objects are typical acute injuries. However, not all injuries fit this standard description, many are occupational diseases. Read on and contact AllianceMeds today to learn more.

    What are occupational diseases? 

It is an illness associated with a particular occupation or industry. Such diseases result from a variety of biological, chemical, physical and psychological factors that are present in the work environment or otherwise encountered in the course of employment.

So, a person who works around chemical fumes may suffer any number of ailments and even when the person wears the appropriate safety equipment, things do not always work out as it should. Such things as mold, asbestos, pesticides and decomposing trash could all cause chemical and biological exposures that lead to health ailments. The worker may feel fine for several years, not realizing that he or she is being affected. Even routine physical exams may not uncover a problem until it becomes worse.

The most common occupational diseases are dermatitis, respiratory illnesses, musculoskeletal disorders, hearing loss, cancer, stress and mental health disorders and infectious diseases, of this group occupational hearing loss is the most common. Meanwhile, respiratory diseases garner a lot of attention including lung cancer, lung damage, scar tissue, asthma, mesothelioma, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Work-related injuries could also arise from sources people do not always think about. Repetitive motions might lead to physical problems and these problems could be similar to the onset of an occupational disease. Back problems might develop over many years and then suddenly take a turn for the worse. Psychological issues may result from spending years dealing with high stress and emotionally challenging environments and may leave someone with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Workers’ compensation laws initially had difficulty accommodating occupational disease because the model injury for the system was a sudden traumatic injury. However, that difficulty has been resolved and today the primary issue is determining whether the employee’s disease was a product of workplace exposure.

An employer takes the employee as is and is responsible for medical conditions caused or made worse by employment. In order to prove that an occupational disease was caused or aggravated by a job, an employee usually has to prove two factors: (1) that the disease was caused by conditions that are characteristic of and specific to a particular occupation and (2) that the disease was not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public was equally exposed.

Simply put, there has to be a link between a particular job and the disease and something about that job must increase the risk of contracting that disease. One of the most recognized occupational diseases was black lung disease, which many coal miners contracted from working in coal mines. The disease was caused by conditions that are characteristic of and specific to coal mining – the coal dust in the mines – and it was not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public was equally exposed.

A disease does not have to only be acquired through a particular occupation in order to be considered an occupational disease. Instead, it can be enough that there is a link between the nature of the job and an increased risk of contracting the disease. Examples include dermatitis or other types of skin conditions acquired by someone who works with cleaning solutions.

There can be cases where ordinary diseases of life can also be occupational diseases. Lung cancer is an ordinary disease, but it may also be caused by a person’s occupation. This was often the case when people worked with asbestos and they contracted lung cancer.

How common are occupational diseases?

According to the National Library of Medicine over 860,000 illnesses are estimated to occur annually in the civilian American workforce at a cost of over 26 billion dollars. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2019 (2020 stats are not yet available) that the top occupations with incidents of workplace illnesses are health care, retail trade, manufacturing, accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, construction, wholesale trade, waste services, and professional and technical services.

Gender also plays a role in occupational disease. Men tend to work in high-risk occupations such as those in industry, mining and construction. Women tend to work more often in offices, the health and social care sector and the service sector. However, this situation is changing and occupational segregation is decreasing. Men suffer generally more from occupational cancer and noise-induced hearing loss. Women suffer generally more from occupational skin diseases and work-related asthma.

There are a myriad of occupational illnesses that a worker can contract from a vast array of occupations. Take all necessary safety precautions, but if you think you contracted a disease from work, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. If you have any questions about how we can help, contact AllianceMeds today.