When is an occupational illness covered under workers’ comp?
When most people think of workers’ compensation, occupational injuries are the first thing that comes to mind. While workplace injuries may seem more common, illnesses and diseases that result from the workplace affect more workers each year.
In fact, the World Health Organization released a report stating that out of the estimated 1.9 million deaths caused by occupational injuries and illnesses each year, non-communicable diseases caused 81 percent. Of the 81 percent, the following three conditions made up about 1.2 million deaths:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Ischaemic heart disease
As a small business owner, it is your responsibility to protect your employees from injuries and illnesses while they are working. Even though injuries happen suddenly, occupational diseases often occur over time. Having the proper workers’ comp coverage is crucial for providing your staff with protection regardless of whether they need it today or 10 years from now.
What is an occupational illness?
Unlike an occupational injury, defining an occupational illness can be tricky. According to OSHA, an occupational illness is “any abnormal condition or disorder resulting from a non-instantaneous event or exposure in the work environment.”
Essentially, if a worker were to contract any illness or disease directly from their work environment or the work they perform for a company, it would be considered an occupational disease.
If your company doesn’t have workers’ comp insurance in place, then the medical fees, treatments, and potential disability benefits would have to be paid directly from the business.
Common causes of a workplace illness
Employees can contract occupational illnesses from any work environment, and it doesn’t have to be a disease. In fact, the International Labor Organization recognizes nine different types of categories that occupational illnesses can fall into, including:
- Skin diseases
- Diseases caused by biological agents
- Diseases caused by chemical agents
- Diseases caused by physical agents
- Occupational cancer
- Infectious or parasitic diseases
- Mental and behavioral disorders
- Respiratory diseases
- Musculoskeletal disorders
Of these nine categories, there are three areas where many occupational illnesses occur—illnesses resulting from exposure to infectious diseases, contact with harmful diseases, and repetitive work.
Exposure to infectious diseases
Often health care workers have the highest risk of contracting an infectious disease due to the nature of their work. Nurses and medical staff take every precaution to minimize their risk and exposure to illnesses, but there is a chance that they catch something from their patients at the end of the day.
Health care employees who contract an illness or disease that requires extensive medical treatment will receive coverage under the company’s workers’ comp policy. Benefits are also available if the condition prevents a team member from returning to their job.
Even though most people associate infectious diseases with health care workers, the truth is that all employees are at risk of contracting an illness while in the workplace. Having the proper coverage in place is crucial to keeping your team safe and protected.
Contact with harmful chemicals
Not every job requires employees to handle harmful chemicals; however, there are specific industries, like manufacturing, where it’s necessary. Employees working in manufacturing and factory environments are at risk of inhaling or coming into contact with harmful chemicals daily. These toxic substances can often lead to lung disease, skin disorders, and even burns.
Occupational illnesses that result from harmful chemicals sometimes take years to manifest. For example, an employee who has worked at the same plant for 20 years could end up developing cancer or respiratory illnesses as a result of working around chemicals every day.
Illnesses caused by repetitive work
Occupational illnesses and disorders caused by repetitive work are the one category that often goes overlooked by employees and employers alike. However, it is also the one area that affects the most people throughout the country.
Two of the most common illnesses employees experience from repetitive work are carpal tunnel syndrome and degenerative disc diseases. Both disorders directly result from performing a task repeatedly over many years.
While it can be difficult to prevent these types of illnesses, encouraging your team to take breaks, exercise, and stretch can go a long way in stopping repetitive disorders from occurring.
Workers’ compensation benefits for occupational illnesses
If your employee suffers from an occupational illness, then your workers’ comp coverage can help in one of two ways. First, the insurance will cover medical expenses and extend coverage to diagnosing and treating an occupational illness.
Should your employee suffer long-term effects from their illness, workers’ compensation could provide disability benefits too. Generally, the disability coverage will fall into either temporary or permanent benefits depending on the extent of the illness’ effect.
Keeping your team safe with workers’ compensation insurance
It can be challenging to keep your staff safe in the workplace. A proper workers’ compensation policy will help keep your team safe regardless of whether they sustain an injury or an illness as a result of their job.
Remember, every situation is different and state workers’ compensation laws are subject to change, so be sure to do your research and speak with a trusted advisor.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes