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Occupational Illnesses & Workers' Compensation

What Is an Occupational Illness?

While many people equate workers’ compensation benefits with a job-related accident or injury, the California workers’ compensation system doesn’t only cover employees who are involved in traumatic incidents. Workers’ compensation benefits are also available to qualified employees who suffer what are known as occupational illnesses.

An occupational illness, also referred to as an occupational disease, is any illness, disease, or condition that results from an individual’s work-related duties or workplace environment. In contrast to most on-the-job injuries, occupational illnesses are rarely incurred from a single traumatic event; rather, they are the result of long-term, continued exposure to harmful work environments or tasks.

Occupational illnesses can be severe and debilitating, requiring extensive medical treatment and ongoing care. They often prevent employees from returning to work, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently when the affected worker is unable to fully recover. Those who suffer occupational illnesses can file workers’ compensation claims and seek medical benefits, as well as wage replacement benefits for temporary and/or permanent disability.

Examples of Common Occupational Illnesses

Any disease or condition incurred due to an employee’s work is considered an occupational illness. That being said, some occupational illnesses are more common than others.

Some of the most common occupational illnesses include:

  • Contact Dermatitis: Typically caused by contact between the skin and an irritant, such as a harsh or toxic chemical, contact dermatitis is one of the most common occupational illnesses. The condition can also represent an allergic reaction (allergic contact dermatitis).
  • Skin Cancer: Workers who must spend a significant amount of time outside, such as roofers or construction workers, are at a heightened risk of developing skin cancer, which can be deadly.
  • Mesothelioma: Employees who are exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing mesothelioma—a form of cancer that affects the lungs, stomach, and other areas of the body—as well as asbestosis and related illnesses.
  • Industrial Asthma: Workers who are exposed to airborne irritants, such as cement layers and other construction workers, can develop industrial asthma. This can lead to serious complications if exposure to irritants continues.
  • Chemical Poisoning: Industrial workers and others who come into contact with hazardous and toxic materials may suffer chemical poisoning on the job. This, in turn, can lead to additional complications and illnesses.
  • Eczema: This skin condition can result from prolonged exposure to irritants and other harmful chemicals, as well as extended periods of wet hands/skin.
  • Lead Poisoning: Workers in industries that process or manage lead can suffer lead poisoning in the course of their work. This is an extremely serious condition that can lead to severe pain and suffering, as well as additional complications.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Employees who are required to complete prolonged, repetitive motions—such as typing or factory work—can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition affecting the hands and wrists.
  • Overuse Syndrome: In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, workers who complete repetitive tasks may sustain overuse syndrome, a condition that typically affects those who carry out repetitive/forceful duties in sustained, confined postures/positions.

This is by no means a complete list of occupational illnesses; any illness, disease, or condition sustained as a result of one’s work-related duties or workplace environment is considered an occupational illness and is covered by California workers’ compensation.

Seeking Benefits for an Occupational Illness

Just like any other type of work-related injury or condition, you can recover medical benefits and wage replacement benefits for your occupational illness under California’s workers’ compensation system. Medical benefits cover all costs associated with your illness, including the cost of past, current, and future treatment. Wage replacement benefits are intended to compensate you for temporary lost wages while you are initially unable to work due to your illness, as well as permanent lost wages if your condition leaves you partially or totally permanently disabled.

In order to recover compensation, you will need to file your workers’ comp claim within 30 days of discovering the illness. Typically, you are considered to have “discovered” your illness on the day you receive a diagnosis for a physician or qualified medical practitioner and/or the day you are made aware that your condition is work-related.

If you need help with any aspect of your workers’ compensation claim, including appealing a denied claim for workers’ compensation benefits for an occupational illness, contact our workers’ compensation lawyers at Alvandi Law Group, P.C. We have extensive experience in this area of law and can help you navigate the legal process.