Occupational illness is compensable under New York workers’ comp

According to OSHA, enhanced safety efforts have caused occupational injury and occupational illness and disease rates to decline by approximately 67 percent since 1970. This is a dramatic decline in light of the fact that employment has almost doubled since 1970. Unfortunately, occupational injuries, illnesses and diseases still occur. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that each year there are approximately 3 million nonfatal occupational injuries and occupational illnesses and diseases. Of that combined number, 94.8 percent of workplace incidents were injuries while 5.2 percent fell into the illness/disease category.

When compared to workplace injuries, occupational disease makes up a statistically small portion of the 3 million annual workplace incidents which cause injury and harm to American workers. Nonetheless, according to EHS Health, occupational disease affects thousands of people each year in the U.S. Occupational diseases caused by dangerous chemicals and other hazardous conditions are said to "affect workers in a plethora of working environments" and can present "life-altering issues." While the effects of an occupational disease may not be acute immediately, over time the possibility of a serious risk to one's health grows.

Some of the more prevalent occupational diseases take the form of respiratory ailments. According to the American Lung Association, common occupational respiratory diseases include mesothelioma, occupational asthma, silicosis, asbestosis and sick building syndrome.

Occupational diseases are covered by workers' compensation. According to the New York State Workers' Compensation Board, a compensable occupational disease arises from the conditions to which a specific type of worker is exposed. The disease must be produced as a natural incident of a particular occupation.

The New York City Bar Association offers two examples of an occupational disease. First, a person who works as a typist may develop a problem with their hands or wrists over time. The problem may be related to doing the same repetitious thing over and over as opposed to one specific incident. Second, an occupational disease may result from being exposed to a substance typical to a job over a long period of time such as baker's asthma which occurs from being exposed to flour dust over a prolonged period of time.

A case decided this year, Dosztan v. Kraft Foods, illustrates the type of situation where a New York worker was held to be entitled to workers' compensation benefits in the context of an occupational disease. In Dosztan, a New York court affirmed a workers' compensation benefit award to an employee who missed a considerable amount of work due to a respiratory ailment causing him significant shortness of breath The medical evidence established that the employee, who worked on an assembly line, came down with the respiratory ailment due to his exposure to cardboard dust and fumes caused by heat-shrinking polyethylene.

Claim filing time

The New York City Bar Association observes that the notice and claim filing time limitations in occupational disease cases are very technical and depend on factors including: (1) the date of the first medical treatment; (2) the date when one first loses time from work; and (3) the date that one knew or should have known that the problem was work-related. The NY City Bar advises that, as a rule of thumb, when you "first become aware that a medical condition is work-related you should consult with an attorney about filing a claim."

Seeking legal assistance

If you have been injured on the job, or are suffering from an occupational disease or illness, you should contact a New York attorney experienced in handling workers' compensation claims.