There are many different facets to occupational diseases in the workplace. In this article we will:
- Define what an occupational disease is
- Go over common concerns associated with occupational disease in the workplace
- Outline key considerations to keep in mind if you are pursuing workers’ compensation
An occupational disease is a condition which an employee suffers, related to their work. This disease results from a particular hazard that is distinguishable from a usual run of occupations. Typically, employees in direct contact with these particular hazards have substantially higher incidence of occupational disease than employees otherwise engaged in more normal run of the mill occupations.
Are There Specific Industries Or Occupations More Prone To Occupational Disease?
Very commonly, there seem to be a disproportionate number of occupational diseases arising in manufacturing and construction work.
Employees who regularly work with wet concrete are much more apt to suffer from irritant contact dermatitis than someone who doesn’t. Whereas, employees who regularly work with hard surface countertops would have higher incidence of silicosis. This exposure to microparticles of silica is related to this particular occupation.
Finally, a fairly common area is healthcare workers who regularly come in contact with bodily fluids. These employees would be more apt to contact bloodborne diseases, like hepatitis, that many people in a typical workplace would not be exposed to.
It is important to note that while occupational disease may be more common in the manufacturing and construction industries, it can happen in a wide array of occupations. If you have questions about occupational disease in your specific industry, speaking with a legal expert on the laws surrounding this issue would be best.
How Do Occupational Diseases Develop, And What Are Some Of The Common Examples?
Occupational diseases develop through timed exposure to different products in the workplace. Some common examples would be employees who are regularly exposed to significant noise in the workplace or significant light sources in the workplace. Prolonged exposure to these elements can lead to degradation in hearing or visual acuity.
Repetitive trauma type injuries, where an employee does repetitive lifting, is another example of the development of occupational disease. In this regard there is no one single incident that seems to be the cause of an onset of back pain, but rather ongoing work. That persistent work leads to physical degradation on a continuous basis over time, as proven through epidemiological studies.
This then demonstrates that the exposure in the amounts and concentrations suffered would indeed be expected to cause the specific condition for which the employee is diagnosed. The direct relation between continuous exposure and the development of an occupational disease is a requirement by law that an employee would need to identify to pursue workers’ compensation.
Are Mental Health Conditions Considered Occupational Diseases? Are They Eligible For Workers’ Compensation?
In most circumstances, mental health conditions standing alone are not considered occupational diseases under the Florida Workers’ Compensation law. However, mental health conditions which arise from and are related to, a physiological trauma in the workplace, can indeed be compensable.
There is one substantial exception. There are itemized exemplars of certain types of traumatic exposure, which can entitle certain first responders to a presumption of compensability of emotional conditions. These conditions must meet the statutory definitions and the specific conditions of exposure.
For instance, if those exposures are created in the workplace while the first responder is exposed, doing their work as they typically do in the course of their employment, the presumption of compensability would apply.
What Obligations Do Employers Have In Terms Of Providing Workers’ Compensation Coverage For Occupational Diseases?
Employers who employ four or more employees in the regular workplace industry, or one or more in the construction field, have a duty to provide the exact same workers’ compensation benefits for occupational diseases as they otherwise would for physiological trauma. As the employee you must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the exposure to the harmful substance is indeed what caused your occupational condition.
How Can Employers Mitigate The Risk Of Occupational Diseases In The Workplace?
Employers can mitigate the risk of occupational diseases in the workplace in many ways. Perhaps the most significant is education. Many products in the workplace are required by law to be provided with what’s called a Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS. The MSDS provides certain outlines and guides on how employees should prevent being exposed to dangerous substances in the workplace. This includes the use of personal protective equipment and durational restrictions on exposures to certain products.
Employers can certainly help mitigate the risk of occupational diseases by educating employees about what they should and should not do to protect themselves from substances in the workplace. Also, regulation and supervision of compliance with the use of personal protective equipment to prevent occupational diseases in the workplace can help to decrease risk.
What Advice Do Employees Have When It Comes To Filing A Workers’ Compensation Claim For An Occupational Disease?
In Florida, you as an employee have the same rights regarding occupational diseases as any other employee regarding physiological trauma. One significant difference between physiological trauma and an occupational disease is the time frame.
Most commonly, for physiological trauma, you are required to report point source traumas within 30 days of the accident to have compensability established by the carrier. For occupational diseases, on the other hand, you have up to 90 days to report upon a reasonable notice of a causal connection between workplace exposures and your occupational conditions.
Can Employees Choose Their Healthcare Provider While Seeking Treatment For Work-Related Injury Or Occupational Duties?
As a general rule, employers and the carriers have the first right to choose who the authorized treating physician will be, but like other areas of workers’ compensation, occupational disease victims can request a one-time change of authorized treating providers should they wish.
In certain circumstances, if your case is denied and not accepted as compensable by your employer, you can, as a matter of right, seek out care or the medical opinion of an independent medical examiner. Medical records and expert testimony can provide great proof of occupational causation to the workers’ compensation judge in the claims process.
For more information on Occupational Diseases In The Workplace, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (386) 388-6260 today.