Occupational Disease

By James Parker
/
June 19, 2022

What Is an Occupational Disease?

An occupational disease is any medical disease that arises from conditions associated with a particular job or industry. There are a number of factors that may create occupational diseases and the diseases themselves may range from inconvenient to deadly.

Occupational disease is an issue that has been plaguing workers for millennia. In the 4th century BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates wrote in his third book of Epidemics about a worker who contracted a case of lead colic while working as an extractor of metals. In the thousands of years that followed this early observation, workers and employers have become aware of an increasing number of occupational diseases that are caused by a number of factors. 

Some factors that may foster an environment where an occupational disease is likely to occur include:

  • Chemical interactions like the radiation released by an x-ray machine.
  • Environmental factors like the coal dust in a mine.
  • Infectious diseases like viruses or bacteria in a hospital.
  • Physical factors like the repetitive motions made by meatpacking workers.
  • Psychological factors like the traumas faced by EMTs.

The specific occupational disease faced by an employee varies widely depending on the job. While a firefighter may face cancer and a clerical worker may face carpal tunnel, both conditions are occupational diseases brought on by the work that they perform. 

Key Takeaways

  • An occupational disease is a medical condition that arises from the circumstances of an individual’s employment including the physical, chemical, environmental, or psychological factors of a workplace.
  • Occupational diseases are unique to the specific job, may take years to arise, and can range from inconvenient to fatal.
  • Employees attempting to prove that a disease is occupational will need to argue why the condition was caused or exacerbated by their workplace while the employer will defend themselves by arguing that the condition occurred for reasons other than the employee’s workplace.
  • If you have contracted an occupational disease as the result of the conditions of your workplace, an experienced Employment Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Occupational Diseases and Employment Law

An employee who develops an occupational disease may want to receive compensation from their employer for their medical expenses. This can be especially true in situations in which the occupational disease was potentially the result of negligence or was an otherwise preventable incident.

In order to demonstrate that the employee’s condition is an occupational disease, the first thing that must be shown is that the disease was either acquired or exacerbated by the employee’s job. For example, a factory worker or soldier may attempt to demonstrate that their hearing loss is the result of the loud machinery or explosions that they were exposed to while performing their normal duties. 

The employee does not need to provide unassailable proof to the court that the occupational disease was exclusively caused by their job, they simply need to show medical documentation explaining their condition and detailed records of their employment history in order to argue that it is more likely than not that the workplace was a major cause of the employee’s disease. If the employee was involved in some kind of accident that was the result of lax safety practices, such as being exposed to high levels of radiation due to the radioactive material being improperly stored, then the employee should present the incident report of these events as well.

Once an employee has presented their argument as to why the condition they are suffering is more likely than not an occupational illness, the employer will make their defense. In cases where the disease is an illness such as cancer, they may argue that the cancer was naturally occurring and not triggered by the working conditions. If the occupational disease was acquired after an accident or safety failure, the employer may attempt to shift the blame for the events to be more the employee’s fault than the employer’s.

Bottom Line

If you have developed an occupational disease as the result of your workplace, whether through a single incident or a series of repeated exposures to injurious elements, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your employer in order to recover your medical expenses. In order to file and prevail in this lawsuit, you will need the help of an Employment Law attorney.

An experienced Employment Law attorney can zealously advocate for you in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. By using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Employment Law attorney will be able to demonstrate the circumstances and practices of your workplace that resulted in the situation that led to your occupational disease.

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