What You Need to Know About Occupational Diseases and Workers’ Compensation

Occupational Diseases and Workers Compensation

Whenever a topic about workers’ compensation is raised, many people almost always associate it with benefits employees receive as a result of injuries sustained from work-related accidents. While it is true, not really all work-related injuries are caused by accidents. Many of these are a result of occupational diseases.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, there were 2.8 million (2.8 cases for every 100 full-time equivalent workers) non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the private industry. 

Under workers’ compensation law, all employees eligible for workers’ compensation are protected from income loss and incurring medical expenses due to work-related injuries, illnesses or diseases. Coverage for workers’ compensation is mandatory for employers in most states. Working with a capable workers compensation provider network is an advantage every U.S. employer should seriously consider. 

A majority of employee work-related injuries are caused by accidents, but some are a result of work-related or occupational diseases which are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Employees who contract work-related ailments are entitled to receive similar benefits given to employees who sustain work-related injuries. Not all states cover the same type and number of diseases under workers’ compensation. But it would be prudent for employers in any state to work with a reputable medical provider network. This will give them peace of mind and an assurance that their workers will be given professional medical treatment when they develop occupational disease or sustain workplace injuries. 

What is an Occupational Disease?

By definition, occupational disease is a disease contracted by an employee or employees as a result of their exposure to certain risk factors arising from their work activity. In short, it is a disease that arises out of and in the course of employment. 

An occupational disease is not the type of disease to which the  general public is exposed to. It can have multiple causes including physical, psychological, biological, chemical and other risk factors that an employee may have encountered in the course of their employment. 

Flu for example can’t be considered as an occupational disease even if an employee contracts it from another employee. It is simply because flu is a disease that the general public is exposed to, and the infected worker can get it anywhere.

How are Occupational Diseases Determined?

The task of determining which diseases are considered work-related depends on the law of each state. Some states identify occupational diseases in their workers’ compensation law, other states address these in their occupation disease laws, while a few other states authorize their courts to determine which diseases are considered “occupational”.

In some states, a sick employee is required to demonstrate a connection between his/her disease and employment. Other states on the other hand, require sick workers to show that their employment was the direct cause of their malady.

The nature of work or employment is another factor that can determine if an illness can qualify as occupational or work-related. If for example, a technician in a medical laboratory contracts tuberculosis for inhaling bacteria from a broken specimen tube, his/her infection can qualify as an occupational disease. But if an office clerk gets her tuberculosis from a fellow employee, her disease could not qualify as occupational because there’s no direct connection between her duties and the disease.

Firefighters are the best representation for occupational disease because their job exposes them to smoke and toxic fumes and substances. In some states, they are even presumed to have an occupational disease especially if they develop cancer or other diseases associated with their job.

In instances when a worker is presumed to have an occupational disease, the burden of proof that the disease did not arise out of his/her employment lies with the employer.

Unlike injuries resulting from work-related accidents, occupational diseases develop over time. Silicosis and asbestosis for example, take a very long time to develop. By the time they start to manifest symptoms, the employee might no longer be able to establish the date he/she contracted the illness. It’s one of the reasons why some states ask a court to determine the injury date. It could be the date the employee first manifested the symptoms or when he/she was first exposed to the hazard.

What are Some Safeguards to Workers’ Compensation?

To safeguard workers’ compensation from abuse, some states impose limitations on workers’ compensation claims in relation to occupational diseases. They do it by imposing a specific time frame (such as two years) for employees to file a workers’ compensation claim from the date the employee realized that his/her disease is work-related.   

Occupational diseases are covered by workers’ compensation insurance and employers’ liability insurance. Workers’ compensation provides medical treatment and disability benefits to employees who contracted an ailment recognized under state law as an occupational disease. 

Employers’ liability insurance on the other hand covers employers from suits by their employees who have suffered an injury due to occupational disease. 

What are Some Common Types of Occupational Diseases?

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Contact dermatitis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Bronchitis

Asbestosis

Silicosis

Lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow

Asthma

Hearing loss

Cancer

Hand-arm vibration syndrome

Tendonitis

Rabies

Who are Exposed to the Risk of Occupational Disease?

All businesses have a tendency to expose some of their workers to the risk of developing an occupational disease. But based on common observation, occupational chronic health disorders are most common in the healthcare, construction, foundry, mining and manufacturing industries.

If an employee of yours claims to have developed an occupational disease, he/she must be able to prove that his/her sickness is caused by a hazard that exists in the workplace. Furthermore, their symptoms must be consistent with the manifestations seen in documented cases of the disease.

If your employee can provide sufficient proof that their ailment is a result of work activity or prolonged exposure to a hazard in the workplace, you can allow them to proceed with the workers’ compensation claims process and seek treatment from your chosen medical provider network. This would result in having workers’ compensation take care of these responsibilities:

  • Cover your sick employee’s treatment cost
  • Replace a portion of their lost income, and
  • Address the cost of their recovery

Your employees are the ones who keep your business running. As an employer, you are responsible for providing your employees with a safe and healthy work environment. Their health and well-being should be one of your top priorities.  Make sure that this priority is well-taken care of. Keep your employees under the care of a trusted workers compensation provider network.