Occupational diseases cause 860,000 illnesses and 60,300 deaths in the United States annually, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Illness directly attributed to work environments and/or conditions and exposure is diagnosed in approximately 10 percent of hospitalized patients. Thousands of American workers each year are exposed to environmental conditions that cause occupational diseases. An occupational disease is any chronic ailment that occurs as a result of a workplace activity. Occupational diseases are more prevalent in a given body of work than in other occupations or the general population.
Known Occupational Diseases
The best known occupational diseases are asbestosis, silicosis, and black (coal miner’s) lung, but there are many others, mostly caused by toxic exposures. Toxins can enter the human body by inhalation, ingestion, or dermally (through the skin—i.e., solvents). Toxins have different target organs. For instance:
- Neurologic disorders: Nervous system disorders are generally the result of employee exposure to toxins, organic solvents, metals, and pesticides. The fat tissue surrounding the human nervous system is the target organ for these toxins. Central nervous system injury refers to brain damage with resulting memory and cognitive deficiencies, personality changes, and depression. Peripheral nervous system damage refers to the nerves in the fingers and toes that can then progress to include the extremities. Numbness and the inability to use the extremities can result. Symptoms from prolonged exposure can include headaches, cognitive problems, irritability, fatigue, pain, and numbness.
- Respiratory disease: Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS) can be caused by overexposure to chemical fumes and inhaled respiratory irritants such as mold spores and dusts of many kinds. When the airways are damaged, they can become hyperactive and develop asthmatic reactions to low levels of exposures that don’t affect persons with healthy airways. If you think that you have been overexposed to chemical fumes, then you should request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that will tell your doctor about the toxic properties of the chemicals you were exposed to. The airways and lungs are the target organs. Some dust diseases that cause lung fibrosis, such as asbestosis and silicosis, may take decades to develop. These dust-related diseases can be diagnosed by X-ray.
Under workers’ compensation laws, there is a presumption that specific diseases are caused by workers’ industrial exposure to toxins, irritants, and so forth. Occupational diseases that meet a certain criteria of the Workers’ Compensation Act are covered. A worker’s claim must be filed within a certain period of years, stating that the worker had knowledge of the disease. Also, there are time limitations based on the last “injurious” exposure. Additionally, if a third party other than the employer, such as a manufacturer or a different contractor, caused the injurious exposure, then a traditional lawsuit may also be possible.
Brooks Law Office is experienced in handling an injured worker’s exposure to an occupational chemical in the course of performing his/her work. Eugene C. Brooks is certified as a trial specialist who has extensive knowledge on toxic exposures. Mr. Brooks will research, gather, and analyze the facts of each case so he can determine and advise on the best course of action to protect the rights of the worker exposed to an occupational disease. Contact us and be assured that your rights will be protected.