Can I Collect Workers Compensation for Occupational Exposure or Diseases?
Minnesota Workers Compensation Occupational Diseases Attorney
Fumes, noise, environmental contaminants, and other occupational hazards are common for some jobs simply due to the nature of the work involved. In some cases, employees will develop occupational exposure injuries, such as hearing loss, allergic reactions, asthma, and fatal diseases, like mesothelioma and lung disease, as a result of fumes, noise, or pollution. If this is the case, the injured worker may be entitled to Minnesota workers’ compensation benefits including wage loss, permanent partial disability, vocational assistance and medical. Minnesota workers’ compensation law allows injured workers compensation benefits for all on-the-job accidents and work injuries, including occupational exposure injuries, regardless of who is responsible for the work accident or work injury.
Mesothelioma | Asbestos Exposure
Mesothelioma from asbestos exposure is one of the most common types of occupational exposure injuries, but there is the number of other types of occupational exposure injuries for which workers’ compensation benefits may be available. For instance, employees who are exposed to high levels of noise, such as factory workers, airline employees, or construction workers, may develop hearing loss as a result of their job. Similarly, employees who are exposed to unsafe levels of certain fumes and environmental contaminants may develop asthma or other respiratory problems.
Work Related/Induced Asthma
Asthma-related to work can be asthma that is caused by a specific workplace sensitizer or irritant and can also be work-exacerbated asthma. This can be an occupational exposure disease. Studies estimate that about 16 percent of all cases of adult-onset asthma is caused by occupational exposures. Work-exacerbated asthma, which is the worsening of asthma due to work, is common and estimated to have a median prevalence of 21.5 percent among asthmatic adults.The agents that cause occupational asthma (OA) include a wide variety of airborne agents in the workplace. More than 350 agents have been reported to cause OA.
For workers with work-exacerbated asthma, avoidance of asthma triggers both at work and away from work (eg, environmental tobacco smoke, extremes of heat and cold) is important together with the use of appropriate medications to control asthma symptoms. Workers with severe occupational asthma (OA) may be unable to work for several months or longer even after cessation of exposure to the culprit agent. The assessment of disability is based on the degree of bronchial obstruction and hyperresponsiveness as well as the need for anti-asthma medication for assuring control.
Hearing Loss | Occupational Disease
Hearing loss can be an occupational exposure injury. Nearly one in four (24 percent) adults aged 20 to 69 in the United States have evidence of noise-induced hearing loss based upon 2011 to 2012 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Among those who reported exposure to loud noise at work, 33 percent had impaired hearing.
The mechanism by which excessive noise induces hearing loss includes direct mechanical damage to cochlear structures and metabolic overload due to overstimulation. Some potential metabolic effects are excess nitric oxide release that can damage hair cells, generation of oxygen free radicals that become toxic to membranes, and low magnesium concentrations that weaken hair cells by reducing the concentration of intracellular calcium.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set standards and guidelines for noise exposure in order to protect workers. All employees who are exposed to a greater than 85 dB time-weighted average must be enrolled in a hearing conservation program and provided hearing protection. Furthermore, OSHA’s standards limit employees’ exposure to noise as follows: if the time-weighted average is 90 dB (which is equivalent to the noise made by a power lawn mower), they may be exposed to that noise for eight hours; at 95 dB, only four hours of exposure is allowed; at 100 dB, only two hours are allowed, and so on.
A short blast of loud noise also can cause severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, pain, or hyperacusis (pain associated with loud noise). This usually involves exposure to noise greater than 120 to 155 dB. Thus, hearing protection in the form of muffs or plugs is highly recommended anytime a person is exposed to loud noise.
Third Party Personal Injury Claims
Depending on the cause of the fumes, noise, or occupational exposure hazard, the injured worker may also have a third-party personal injury claim against a party other than the employer. For instance, if the fumes inhaled were dangerous, the product’s manufacturer could be liable for any resulting injuries in a product liability lawsuit.
Workers’ compensation and third-party personal injury claims for occupational exposure injuries are often difficult to pursue since it can be hard to prove that the injuries were sustained while on the job. Accordingly, it is important to consult with an attorney who understands the requirements of filing a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim or a third-party personal injury lawsuit.
Proving Work Related Occupational Diseases
It is important in cases where the employer and insurer deny responsibility for injuries is that the injured worker bears the burden of proof. In other words, the injured has to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that work exposure is a substantial contributing cause to the disease and disability. So how do you go about doing that? With evidence and medical support. The injured worker should be able to show:
- That the chemical at issue is capable of causing the disease or illness; and
- That the chemical at issue caused the disease or illness within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.
Finding a clear temporal relationship between symptoms and exposure is useful, but it is also important to realize that in some cases current exposures do not always lead to immediate symptoms. For example:
A car painter may have worked for months at his job before developing a dry hacking cough that occurs during or after work. He might be experiencing bronchospasm from exposure to toluene diisocyanate (TDI), a well-known sensitizing agent, and one of the chemical components in the car lacquer that he sprays. In the case of allergic responses, it may take months of exposure before sensitization and clinical allergy develops. Once asthma occurs, symptoms can sometimes extend beyond the work period and then be triggered by a range of irritants.
Symptoms of hyperreactive airways (persistent dry cough and shortness of breath) may develop after a single large exposure to an irritant such as chlorine gas or sulfur dioxide. This has been termed “reactive airways disease syndrome” or “RADs”. Some firefighters and rescue workers exposed to a variety of inhaled materials during and after the collapse of the World Trade Centers developed a severe cough and persistent bronchial hyperreactivity. Most recently the term “irritant-induced occupational asthma” has been used, which has less stringent criteria than “RADS”, and also includes cases with induced airway symptoms after one or more exposures.
The injured worker should be able to describe the tasks he/she performs, the agents handled, and the working conditions. Getting more information to the doctors about the chemical exposures can be initiated by obtaining the generic names of the agents used. This can be accomplished by getting the label or a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS); the latter is the manufacturer’s description of the product’s generic name, ingredients, known health hazards, and recommendation for safe handling. These sheets vary in accuracy and completeness. MSDS’s can be obtained from the manufacturer or employer, and some can be found on internet sites (one good source is from the Vermont Safety Information Resources). Information about health effects related to these toxins can also be found by consulting other sources, such as poison control centers (1-800-222-1222), consultants, agencies, and useful references.
Consult a Minnesota Work Injury Attorney | MN Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Occupational exposure injuries and diseases can be very difficult cases. It is important to discuss your case with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to make sure the appropriate steps are being taken to protect your rights to Minnesota workers compensation benefits. Contact Jerry Sisk a Minnesota work injury attorney who is experienced in occupational diseases and injuries to discuss your case. Jerry offers a free, no hassle consultation.
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