The Basics of Occupational Disease
Occupational diseases are a type of work injury that entitle you to compensation under both the Workers’ Compensation Act, and the Occupational Disease Act in Pennsylvania. For the majority of injuries that entitle workers to compensation covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act such as a back injury, broken bones, crush injuries or a repetitive stress injury like carpal tunnel syndrome, an injured worker has three years from the date of the injury to file a claim. However, there are different rules for occupational diseases.
An occupational disease is a disease or illness caused by exposure to an element that can cause illness. Some diseases are specifically mentioned such as Hepatitis, and Tuberculosis for nurses, blood workers or related professionals, heart and lung diseases for fireman, and Silicosis and Pneumoconiosis for workers exposed to coal dust. Chemical exposure is also often a cause of occupational disease as well as any disease caused by exposure at work, particularly if your industry has a higher rate of that disease than other industries. If you are diagnosed with one of these diseases you may be eligible for compensation and should contact a workers’ compensation attorney.
It is a common misconception that you must be exposed to the elements that cause the disease for a long period of time before they cause an injury. That is not true. Any exposure while at work to something that causes disease can entitle you to compensation. If you were exposed at work the burden is on your employer to prove something else caused your disease.
Critically if you have been diagnosed with a disease that was caused by exposure at work you have much longer to file a claim. Instead of having three years from the date of your injury you have 300 weeks from the time of your last exposure, or 300 weeks from when you discovered your illness, or should have discovered your illness.
In the Lehigh Valley there are several specific areas of industry that may have increased exposure to occupational disease. If you are engaged in industrial reclamation projects, or warehouse construction and maintenance involving sand blasting, or large scale painting you may have been exposed to risk factors. Are you a nurse, medical professional, or medical transportation specialist? You may be exposed to Hepatitis or other blood diseases. Even construction workers engaged in renovations of old buildings may have been exposed to asbestos and have increased risk of disease. Firefighters, police officers, and many other professions may also be in danger of contracting an occupational disease.
If you have been diagnosed with an illness that you, or your doctor thinks is related to exposure at work, don’t wait. Contact a workers’ compensation attorney to see if you are entitled to have your medical bills paid, lost wages paid, or whether you may be able to receive a lump sum settlement.