Occupational injuries versus occupational diseases

Obtaining workers’ compensation benefits is complex. A big reason is because many workplace injuries do not have a “triggering” event. A case in point involves occupational illnesses.

A warehouse worker breaks his wrist after being struck by heavy machinery at work. A construction worker falls off scaffolding and injures his back. Another worker slips on an oil slick on a factory floor and bruises his hip.

All of these workers need both medical attention and rehabilitation before they can return to work. They contact their employers after their injuries, apply for workers' compensation benefits, and are immediately approved.

Unfortunately, obtaining workers' compensation benefits is rarely this easy or cut and dry; the process is complicated. One of the biggest reasons is because many workplace injuries do not have a "triggering" event that caused the injury.

A case in point involves occupational illnesses.

What is an occupational illness?

Occupational illnesses, also commonly referred to as occupational diseases, are not generally acute or immediate workplace injuries. They are illnesses that typically manifest after working alongside a dangerous substance or toxic chemical or product over a significant period of time.

A common example involves mesothelioma. Many workers often contract the deadly cancer after continuous exposure to cancer-causing asbestos fibers. Black lung disease is another example. Many coal miners who breathe in unventilated environments with black dust often develop lung cancer or blackened lungs. Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or other types of repetitive strain injury is another common form of occupational disease. Many office workers and factory workers suffer from such conditions after years of typing on a computer or performing repetitive wrist motions.

However, these illnesses do not typically manifest until months or years after the first exposure. So, unlike many acute workplace injuries, most occupational illnesses have no specific triggering event to which a worker can point. And, because this is a critical part of the workers' compensation process, many are denied benefits when they require treatment or begin to miss work because of the injury.

But it's vital for workers to understand that when it comes to occupational diseases, there doesn't need to be a specific date identified in order for the illness to be covered. As long as the employee can show causation-or that the illness or disease arose out of employment-he or she can be entitled to benefits. The last date of exposure typically becomes the date of injury for purposes of a workers' comp claim.

The help of a workers' compensation attorney

However, the law is much more complex than simply establishing causation of an occupational disease. There are intricate procedures and strict notice and filing timeframes. It is imperative that a worker suffering from a toxic exposure or repetitive motion injury contact a workers' compensation lawyer immediately to ensure that all possible rights are preserved.

Those who believe they suffer from a work-related illness or disease should always consult with a workers' compensation attorney, preferably an attorney Certified in Workers' Compensation by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who possesses knowledge in this area of law.

Keywords: occupational illnesses, occupational diseases, workers' compensation