An occupational illness is one that develops over time due to exposure to toxins, irritants, or biological hazards in the work environment. The effects of the exposure may not be apparent right away and can take months or even years to appear. When the illness does develop, the results can be debilitating and devastating. Fortunately, through the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act, Workers’ Compensation benefits are available to help employees with occupational illnesses.
To be compensable under the Act, an illness must meet three criteria to demonstrate that it is occupationally related:
- The worker must be exposed to the illness due to their job.
- The cause of the illness must be related to the worker’s occupation or the industry they worked in.
- That industry or occupation must have a substantially higher rate of the illness than in the general population.
In Pennsylvania, some illnesses are recognized specifically as being an occupational risk for workers, such as heart and lung diseases for firemen, pneumoconiosis and silicosis for those exposed to coal dust, and tuberculosis and hepatitis for nurses, blood processors, and other health professionals who come in contact with these diseases.
Common Occupational Illnesses
There are many different illnesses that are related to specific occupations and their hazards. Some of the most common include:
- Mesothelioma: A deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos particles
- Silicosis: A disease resulting from inhaling coal dust and more commonly known as black lung
- Berylliosis or chronic beryllium disease: A work-related lung disease that develops from exposure to airborne beryllium during processing for the electronics, aerospace, and nuclear power industries
- Repetitive motion disorders: Office workers or anyone doing repeated tasks at work may develop related illnesses, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This category of lung diseases includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis
Pre-existing conditions that develop into a more serious illness or disability because of your workplace environment are also covered under the Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act. For example, if you had asthma that was aggravated by exposure to dust, fumes, or chemicals, you can claim Workers’ Compensation benefits for your illness.
Claiming Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Your Occupational Illness
The time frame for reporting an occupational illness is different from reporting work injuries. Your illness must be reported within 120 days of when it occurs and there is a three-year statute of limitations for filing. Additionally, a claim for a disability caused by an occupational illness must be filed within 300 weeks of the last exposure to the hazardous substance. Because some illnesses, such as mesothelioma, may take 15 to 20 years to appear, it is possible that the disability falls outside the time limit of 300 weeks, and therefore, cannot be compensated. Unfortunately, this time requirement also applies to death benefits for surviving family members of a worker who dies from an occupational illness. A qualified Workers’ Compensation lawyer can help you determine if your claim meets the time requirements.
If your claim is denied because too much time has passed for your claim to be compensable, you may seek to file a third-party civil lawsuit against the supplier or manufacturer of the toxic substance that caused your illness. Compensation for your occupational illness could be recovered in this way. Every employer is obligated to provide a work environment that complies with the safety standards and regulations of their industry. Proper ventilation, cleaning procedures, and personal protective equipment are vital to keeping employees safe.
Pittsburgh Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at AlpernSchubert P.C. Help Injured Workers Suffering from Occupational Illnesses
If you or a loved one developed an illness directly related your job, we can help. The experienced Pittsburgh Workers’ Compensation lawyers at AlpernSchubert P.C. know the Workers’ Compensation system and will fight to obtain the maximum compensation allowable for your case. Call us at 412-765-1888 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation. Based in Pittsburgh, we help injured workers throughout western Pennsylvania, including those in Allegheny County, Lawrence County, and Washington County.