Workplace Injuries: Occupational Illness and Injury
For weeks on end, you’ve been sick — maybe coughing up mucus or battling overwhelming fatigue. Most days you manage to make it in to work, but your symptoms get worse every time you do. If this sounds familiar, you could be dealing with an occupational illness.
The cycle of getting sick, calling in to work, recovering, going into work and getting sick again is awful. The stress of possibly losing your job because you’re constantly ill is an additional pressure that won’t help improve your health.
You may be wondering what you can do about it. Hopefully you’ve already seen a doctor and are starting to get treatment. While a doctor can help you feel better, workers’ compensation is there to support you financially. It can help you recover lost wages and medical expenses for work-related illness and injury.
Successfully filing a workers’ compensation claim in Ohio isn’t a cut-and-dried feat that’s easy to accomplish. While occupational injuries are relatively obvious, proving your illness was caused by your job can be difficult.
What is an Occupational Illness?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines occupational illness as any disease or illness that occurred in the course of employment. These illnesses may be physical or psychological. The key is that the illness must be caused or aggravated by performing essential job duties.
Examples of Occupational Illnesses
Constant exposure to harmful materials, chemicals or even dust can result in life-threatening illnesses. Asbestos is one hazardous material that can cause asbestosis, which later may develop into a form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there will be over 50,000 new cancer cases this year caused by past exposure in the workplace.
Other occupational illnesses include, but are not limited to:
- Chrome ulcers of the skin
- Farmer’s lung
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heatstroke or sunstroke
- Chemical poisoning
- Hearing loss or punctured eardrum
- Blood-borne pathogen infection, such as HIV and hepatitis B or C.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
To learn more about work-related respiratory diseases, the CDC work-related lung disease website is an excellent source.
Jobs with High Exposure Risk
Exposure to hazardous materials can happen in any workplace, but it’s a more common occurrence for manual laborers. Construction workers, miners, welders, railroad workers, oil rig workers, farmers, and those in the aerospace industry are exposed to thousands of potentially harmful substances every day.
Textile workers, popcorn factory employees, and those who work around noisy tools and machinery are also at an increased risk of developing a work-related illness.
Interesting fact: the disease “popcorn lung” is specific to those who work with any food items that use an abundance of buttery flavoring.
Firefighters, emergency medical responders and police officers have jobs with abnormally high stress factors. Post-traumatic stress disorder, heart attacks and hernias are common occupational illnesses these workers might experience over the course of their careers.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
CTS involves median nerve damage that runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, resulting in swelling, pain, weakness and numbness of the hand and wrist. Symptoms usually start gradually and worsen over time. Without treatment, a person may lose the ability to make a fist, grasp small objects or perform manual tasks.
In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome is covered under workers’ compensation.
What is an Occupational Injury?
When an employee is physically hurt on the job, that injury is considered work-related. However, a paper cut on your finger after printing those Monday reports is hardly a claim-worthy injury.
A broken bone, sprain, muscle tear, herniated disc or dropping a 100-pound box on your big toe — these are the more serious workplace injuries that should be reported to a supervisor for a workers’ compensation claim.
In the terrible event an employee dies in the course of performing their work duties, their dependents — meaning their spouse and children — are usually entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Repetitive motion injuries are frequently covered under workers’ compensation, too. These are injuries that result from a repeated action, such as typing or bending over to lift heavy objects. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most familiar example of repetitive stress injuries.
OHSA, Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Illness
Workplace safety standards are upheld by OSHA. All businesses with one or more employees are legally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
The purpose of workers’ compensation is to guarantee coverage for medical expenses and lost wages in the event of an occupational injury, illness or death. The amount of workers’ compensation awarded will vary depending on the scope of injury or illness.
For example, an employee who suffers from a repetitive motion injury that later escalates into a lifelong disability is likely to secure permanent disability benefits. Of course, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation or the presiding judge will ultimately decide what the award will be based on the particulars of each case.
Proving Your Illness or Injury Is Work-Related
Proving your injury or illness is work-related is not always a straightforward affair. Occupational illnesses can sometimes be difficult to prove because symptoms may take years to develop.
See a doctor any time you are injured or find yourself struggling to recover from an illness. Report your injury or illness to your supervisor as soon as possible. You could weaken your claim or lose your right to file altogether by waiting too long to report an injury or illness.
Also, be sure to keep track of all your medical records. By doing so you may be better able to prove your illness is in fact work-related when filing a workers’ compensation claim.
When Should I Seek the Advice of an Ohio Attorney?
Although workers’ compensation is a system meant to benefit workers, the claims process can intensify an already stressful situation. Many claims are initially denied or not awarded the full benefit. There’s also a time limit for filing a claim, now just one year in Ohio. The guidance of an attorney whose practice includes expertise in Ohio workers’ compensation law may be your best ally in getting the benefits you deserve.
If you are pursuing, or intend to pursue, a workers’ compensation claim in Ohio, Plevin & Gallucci can help you get the compensation you need to cover your expenses and medical treatments and avoid legal hurdles. Give us a call today or visit one of our locations in Cleveland, Columbus, or Waverly.