Learn about work-related diseases and illnesses in North Carolina, including which ones qualify for workers’ compensation benefits and how to file a claim for maximum compensation
In the diverse landscape of North Carolina’s workplaces, employees are exposed to various risks that can lead to occupational diseases and illnesses. These conditions, ranging from hearing loss and respiratory issues to repetitive strain injuries, arise not from a singular incident but from prolonged exposure to hazardous work environments.
This comprehensive article delves into the intricacies of occupational diseases and illnesses in North Carolina and explains your right to workers’ compensation benefits if you’ve been affected.
What is an occupational disease?
An occupational disease or illness is a medical condition that is caused by or directly related to a person’s work environment or the nature of their job duties. Unlike injuries that result from a specific workplace accident, occupational diseases typically develop over time due to prolonged exposure to dangerous conditions or substances at work.
What is considered an occupational illness or disease?
Occupational diseases and illnesses cover a large spectrum of health conditions, from hearing loss to cancer to repetitive stress injuries. Below are some of the most common:
- Hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to loud noise or certain chemicals can cause permanent hearing damage, commonly affecting workers in manufacturing, construction, mining and airport operations. This condition underscores the importance of using protective hearing equipment in noisy work environments.
- Vision loss. Occupational vision loss can occur from prolonged exposure to harsh lighting, screen glare or hazardous materials. It’s common in professions involving extensive computer use, welding, or handling of toxic chemicals. Regular eye exams, proper lighting, and protective eyewear are essential preventive measures for workers in these fields.
- Chemical burns or poisoning. Direct contact with or inhalation of hazardous chemicals can result in burns or systemic poisoning. Workers in sectors like cleaning, agriculture and chemical manufacturing are particularly vulnerable to these risks.
- Tendonitis. This inflammation of tendons is caused by repetitive stress or overuse, leading to pain and discomfort. It’s common in professions requiring repetitive movements, such as musicians, athletes, and construction workers.
- Vibration white finger. This condition results from prolonged use of vibrating machinery, causing numbness and circulation issues in fingers. Construction, landscape and forestry workers using handheld vibrating tools are most susceptible.
- Asbestosis. This is a chronic lung condition caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, which eventually leads to scarring of the lung tissue and severe breathing difficulties. This disease is particularly prevalent among workers in construction, demolition and shipbuilding industries, where asbestos was historically used. Due to its long latency period, symptoms might not appear until years after exposure.
- Occupational dermatitis. This skin condition, caused by contact with workplace irritants or allergens, results in inflammation and irritation. Health care workers, beauticians, housekeepers and janitors are often affected, emphasizing the need for protective skin care and exposure reduction measures.
- Lead poisoning. Chronic exposure to lead can lead to a range of health problems, including neurological, gastrointestinal and blood disorders. Occupations like painting, battery manufacturing, and plumbing often involve lead exposure, necessitating strict safety protocols to protect workers.
- Arthritis. Work-related arthritis is often the result of repetitive strain or continuous use of specific joints, leading to inflammation, pain, and decreased mobility. Occupations such as construction, carpentry, and any job requiring repetitive motion are at higher risk. Ergonomic workplace adaptations and regular physical therapy can help manage and prevent its progression.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition, characterized by numbness and tingling in the hand, is caused by repetitive hand movements. It’s frequently diagnosed in office workers, seamstresses and assembly line workers, highlighting the need for ergonomic workplace solutions.
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). This condition is caused by repetitive wrist and arm motions, leading to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow. It is frequently diagnosed in carpenters, roofers, painters, and athletes, particularly those who engage in activities requiring repetitive arm movements. Preventive strategies include ergonomic adjustments and regular breaks to reduce strain.
- Occupational asthma. Triggered by workplace allergens or irritants, this respiratory condition can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Workers in woodworking, manufacturing, baking and chemical industries are particularly at risk.
- Mesothelioma. A rare cancer primarily affecting the lining of the lungs, it’s strongly linked to asbestos exposure. Workers involved in asbestos removal or those working in old buildings and shipyards are particularly at risk.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Long-term exposure to workplace irritants can lead to COPD, especially in workers who smoke. This condition is prevalent in industries with dusty or chemical-laden environments.
- Black lung disease (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis). This lung disease is a result of long-term inhalation of coal dust, causing inflammation and scarring in the lungs that can lead to significant breathing difficulties. It is primarily seen in coal miners due to their regular exposure to coal dust in the mining environment. Early detection and prevention strategies are crucial for miners to mitigate the risk.
- Silicosis. Caused by inhaling silica particles, this disease leads to lung inflammation and scarring, impairing respiratory function. Workers in industries like mining, sandblasting and masonry are at higher risk, especially when safety measures are not adequately enforced.
- Berylliosis. A chronic lung disease caused by exposure to beryllium. This disease affects workers in industries such as aerospace, nuclear and manufacturing, leading to coughing, weight loss and fatigue. Employers are required to provide protective measures to limit exposure.
Are occupational diseases and illnesses covered under North Carolina workers’ comp?
Yes, occupational diseases and illnesses are covered under North Carolina workers’ compensation. According to North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act, employees who suffer from illnesses or diseases that occur in the “course and scope” of their employment are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Unlike in a personal injury lawsuit, workers don’t need to prove anyone was at fault for their injury, illness or disease to qualify for benefits. They only need to prove it was a direct result of their job duties or work environment.
How do you prove an occupational disease or illness is work-related?
To prove that an occupational disease or illness is work-related, you need to establish a clear connection between your work environment or job duties and the condition you’re suffering from. This typically involves several key criteria:
- Medical diagnosis. Obtain a detailed medical diagnosis from a health care professional, ideally one who specializes in occupational diseases. The diagnosis should explicitly state the nature of the illness and its likely connection to your work.
- Expert testimony. In many cases, the testimony or reports from occupational health experts who can attest to the typical health risks associated with certain job roles or industries can be compelling.
- Comparison with known cases. Demonstrating how your condition aligns with known patterns of illness in your industry or among workers with similar job roles is also essential to strengthening your case.
- Corroborating evidence. Gather any additional evidence that supports your claim, such as safety reports, workplace incident logs, or testimonies from coworkers who can confirm the working conditions and potential exposures.
- Work history and exposure documentation. Provide a comprehensive account of your work history, including details about the nature of your job, the conditions under which you worked, and the duration of your exposure to any harmful substances or stressful conditions.
Successfully proving a work-related occupational disease typically requires a careful compilation of medical, occupational, and legal evidence. In complex cases, it is advisable to seek assistance from a workers’ compensation attorney who can guide you through the process and help in gathering and presenting the necessary documentation.
Are you suffering from an occupational disease or illness in North Carolina? Wilder Pantazis Law Group can help!
If you’re grappling with an occupational disease or illness in Charlotte, North Carolina, the road to securing your workers’ compensation benefits might seem daunting. This is where Wilder Pantazis Law Group steps in to offer expert assistance.
Our team, backed by extensive experience in workers’ compensation law, is well-versed in handling the complexities of such cases. We also understand the nuances of proving the work-related nature of occupational diseases and illnesses.
Our knowledgeable Charlotte work injury attorneys can guide you through every step of the claim process, from compiling medical evidence and work history documentation to navigating the legal proceedings. We’re committed to ensuring that you receive the full benefits you are entitled to for your medical treatment, lost wages and rehabilitation needs.
Don’t navigate this challenging journey alone. Reach out to Wilder Pantazis Law Group for a free consultation today. We’ll help you understand your rights, build a strong case, and fight for the compensation you deserve.