An occupational disease or illness refers to any disease that arises from exposure to a risk factor while at work or while participating in a work-related activity. Employees who sustain an injury, or contract a disease or illness that is directly related to their employment are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
How Workers Contract Diseases and Illnesses
The type of occupational-related health issues an individual is at risk of developing is based on the type of work he or she performs.
Causes of occupational diseases include:
- exposure to germs, such as within a health care setting;
- touching, breathing in, splashing and/or swallowing a hazardous substance;
- eating spoiled food;
- loud noise exposure;
- cold; and
Following safety protocols as set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can help reduce the risk of suffering a work-related disease or illness.
Examples of Occupational Diseases and Illnesses
Biological agents that can lead to illness and disease include fungi, viruses, bacteria and the various toxins each is associated with. These biological agents affect an individual’s health in several ways with symptoms ranging from mild allergic reactions to serious medical problems, and even death.
In the natural environment, these organisms can be found in soil, water, plants and animals. However, since these microbes have the ability to reproduce rapidly and need very few resources to survive, they are present in a variety of occupational settings.
Some biological agents that individuals working within the medical field may be exposed to include:
- Bloodborne pathogens – OSHA estimates that nearly 6 million people who are working in the medical industry and other related fields are at risk of being exposed to bloodborne pathogens. Some of the pathogens that can be contracted through an accidental needle stick include the hepatitis B virus (HBV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
- Avian flu – is a highly contagious form of influenza that affects birds. This disease can be transferred to humans.
- A foodborne illness – can be caused by parasites, viruses, metals, bacteria, toxins and microscopic protein particles. Symptoms associated with foodborne illness range from mild diarrhea to life-threatening renal, hepatic and neurologic syndromes.
- Ménière’s disease – typically affects individuals who work in construction and manufacturing plants. This disease affects the inner ear and can cause a feeling of fullness/congestion, muffled hearing, hearing loss, ringing in the ears and dizziness. Ménière’s disease usually affects individuals who are between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Radiation exposure – from X-rays, mammograms and computed tomography scans (i.e., cat scans or CT scans) may affect radiologists, radiologic technologists and mammography technicians.
- Skin irritation and rashes (dermatitis) – are among the most common skin problems experienced. Occupational dermatitis can develop due to allergies or from contact with certain substances.
- Some of the substances responsible for causing occupational skin diseases like contact dermatitis include:
- chemical exposure;
- alkali or acids; and
- heavy metals.
- Heat stress – occurs when an individual works in a hot environment or is exposed to extreme heat. Heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat rashes and/or heat cramps. In addition, excessive heat can increase the likelihood that an individual will become injured due to sweaty palms, dizziness and/or fogged-up safety glasses. Furthermore, burns may result because of accidental contact with steam or hot surfaces.
- Cold stress – can lead to frostbite. Many parts of the body are susceptible to frostbite. Frostbite occurs when tissue is damaged because it freezes. If the damage is severe, the body part may have to be removed. Symptoms of frostbite include tingling, numbness, stinging and/ or pain near the affected part of the body. Parts of the body at the highest risk for frostbite include the toes, fingers, ears and nose.
Occupation Hearing Loss
Under the New York State Workers’ Compensation statute, occupational hearing loss claims can be a bit tricky.
In order for a viable claim to exist, a claimant must be employed in a job causing harm noise exposure for at least 90 days.
The statute requires that a claimant be removed from the harmful exposure for at least 90 days for compensability to attach. Removal from the exposure can involve taking a different position where there is no noise exposure or utilization of ear protection.
The statute of limitations for filing a hearing loss claim is two years, with an exception that the claimant has up to 90 days following his or her having knowledge of the work related hearing loss. In theory, this could extend the statute of limitations beyond two years if the knowledge requirement can be proven.
What Financial Benefit Does Workers’ Compensation Provide an Employee Who Contracted an Occupational Illness or Disease?
Workers’ compensation is designed to assist employees who sustain injuries or contract a disease, or illness while working. After filing a claim, workers’ compensation may assist with paying medical bills related to the injury, illness or disease and provide the employee with two-thirds of his or her weekly pay (up to $904.74 a week).
The time limit for filing a workers’ compensation claim for a disease or illness is two years after knowing that the disease or illness was contracted due to the nature of employment.
Filing An Occupational Disease Claim
The Workers’ Compensation Law of New York State, Section 28, requires that an occupational disease claim be filed within 2 years of the date of disablement and within 2 years after the claimant knew or should have known of the connection between his or her employment and the condition.
Examples of occupational diseases are carpal tunnel syndrome, non-traumatic back or elbow conditions, or any other medical diagnosis that is caused over the course of time by repetitive exposure or stress as opposed to a specific accident or trauma.
Occupational disease claims can be tricky but the Workers’ Compensation Board has much latitude is setting the date of disablement to accomplish a fair result.
Even if it has been more than 2 years since you first noticed symptoms of a work related condition, it is possible that you will still have a valid claim for benefits.
If you have been injured, keep in mind that most insurance companies are not looking out for the employee and will want to settle your case for as little as possible. Before accepting any settlement offer, a sick employee should speak with an attorney who is well-versed in workers’ compensation law. If you have contracted a work-related disease or illness and you live in or near Albany, New York, contact Attorney Paul Giannetti At Law today to schedule your free consultation. At the law office of Paul Giannetti, there is no fee unless you win.