In part one of our discussion of occupational illnesses, we identified what factors are used to determine if a North Carolina worker can claim workers’ compensation benefits for their illnesses. We also identified some of the specific types of illnesses that North Carolina considers to be occupational illnesses where exposures to chemicals were involved as set forth in N.C.G.S. 97-53. In this part of the discussion, we focus on some of the more common types of occupational illnesses that North Carolina workers suffer from.
The safest course if you become ill and you think that your illness might in any way be related to your work is to contact Joe Miller Ltd. today. We’ll explain whether you should file a claim, the type of medical evidence you need to support your claim, what defenses the employer may raise, and what benefits you can claim.
Common occupational diseases in North Carolina
Workers who suffer a compensable occupational disease often suffer from one of the following types of health disorders:
Musculoskeletal Disorders-generally not covered as occupational diseases
Musculoskeletal disorders include shoulder injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, pain in the lower back, tendonitis – and damage to nerves, muscles, and tendons. Some of the common causes include jobs that require lifting, pushing, carrying, typing, use of vibrative tools such as jackhammers, and repetitive motions. Unfortunately, other than carpal tunnel syndrome, most of these conditions are NOT compensable as occupational diseases or even as “ordinary diseases of life” in North Carolina. Workers who suffer from Workers with these disorders may suffer short-term disorders that prevent them from working while they receive treatment and long-term disorders that may result in chronic pain and permanent injuries. The one exception appears to be “bursitis due to intermittent pressure in employment” which is specifically covered as an occupational disease under section 17 of the occupational disease statute.
Occupational Skin Diseases
Any worker such as a construction worker, factory worker, healthcare worker, or someone who works in the cleaning industry may be exposed to toxic chemicals that can come into contact with a workers’ skin. Examples of skin disorders include eczema, dermatitis, contact urticaria, and infections. Workers often need to treat with dermatologists to treat any itching, rashes, burning sensations, infections, and other skin complications. Note that if the specific exposure is not listed in the statute, it’s going to be treated as an ordinary disease of life and that means that you must rely on section 13 of the statute, which says you must prove the disease is “characteristic and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, BUT excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the public is equally exposed outside of the employment.”
Respiratory Diseases-Unless Listed, it’s an Ordinary Disease of Life
Workers who do construction work, agricultural work, manufacturing, and other jobs are regularly exposed to airborne dust and chemicals. Of course, asbestos and silica dust are specifically listed as occupational diseases in the statute. Healthcare workers are regularly exposed to diseases. Workers who suffer respiratory illnesses such as lung disorders may have a viable occupational illness claim.
Some of the different types of respiratory disorders include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bronchitis – all of which can make just catching one’s breath very difficult. The sooner you seek medical help for any type of respiratory illness, the better your odds of treating the disease and preventing the illness from becoming permanent.
That being said, if the specific respiratory illness is not enumerated in the statute, you are going to have a high burden of prove as set forth in section 13 of the statute. That means you have to show that the disease is “characteristic and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, BUT excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the public is equally exposed outside of the employment.” This means that if the particular chemical, substance, or disease you are exposed to is not something that is peculiar to your job, you may have a very difficult time proving your claim.
A decent example of this might be COVID-19. As of September of 2022, unfortunately, COVID remains an ordinary disease of life under the current statutory scheme, even if you are a front-line healthcare worker. So even if you know you contracted COVID in your job from a co-worker, unless your job requires you to be in close contact on regular and frequent basis with COVID patients, for instance, in a COVID clinic or drawing blood at a hospital, COVID exposure in not characteristic to your job and your occupational disease claim would fail.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss over Time
Many workers in construction and manufacturing are regularly exposed to loud and continuous noises that can cause partial or permanent hearing loss. An inability to hear can make doing many jobs impossible starting with an inability to hear instructions from a supervisor or to hear alarms and warnings about possible dangers. Some of the signs of hearing loss that indicate a worker should seek immediate medical help from an ER doctor or an auditory doctor include ringing in the ears, an inability or difficulty understanding others, and increased sound sensitivity. As noted in our previous article, if you are attempting to claim occupational hearing loss caused by exposure to noise over time, unlike traumatically-induced hearing loss, you will need to have compensable hearing loss in BOTH ears.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
It’s not just exposure to dangerous chemicals that are used in manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and other industries – that can cause respiratory diseases. Exposure to carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous and possibly deadly. Often, employees do not know they have been exposed to carbon dioxide because the gas is colorless and has no odor. Fortunately, Carbon Monoxide poisoning is listed as a specific occupational disease in the statute at number 22.
Generally, employers who suspect that carbon monoxide leaks may affect any workers, the employers should install carbon monoxide detectors. Employers should keep fuel-burning appliances and engines properly vented. Gas appliances should be used as recommended.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
“Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal, or other fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels.”
Some of the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, a dull headache, confusion, nausea or vomiting, blurry vision, and loss of consciousness.
“Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before anyone realizes there’s a problem.”
The treatments for carbon monoxide poisoning include breathing pure oxygen and spending time in a pure oxygen chamber.
Lead exposure which can cause lead poisoning is also hard to detect because lead is also colorless and odorless. This is also listed in the statute at section 6; however, there is a specific requirement that the hazard of exposure must exceed 30 days AND that it must have occurred in the prior 12 months. Moreover, only the last employer that meets such requirements is responsible or liable to cover the occupational disease that results from lead poisoning.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.” “Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations, or work in auto repair shops also might be exposed to lead.”
Some of the symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include:
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Difficulties with memory or concentration
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disorders
- Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
- Miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth in pregnant women
Lead poisoning is usually detected through a blood test. It’s important for workers to notify employers of lead poisoning because it is essential to remove the source of the contamination so other workers aren’t affected. Chelation therapy is a common treatment.
Other types of occupational illnesses
Some of the many other types of occupational illnesses our North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer handles include:
- Infectious diseases such as Anthrax or COVID-19. As to COVID, your job must have required regular and frequent exposure to COVID patients.
- Different types of cancers including lung cancer, mesothelioma, epitheliomatous cancer
- Poisoning by way of the numerous chemicals and substances listed in the statute, including arsenic, brass, zinc, manganese, mercury, phosphorous, and several others.
In addition to construction, manufacturing, and healthcare – some of the industries known to cause occupational illnesses may include transportation, warehousing, retail, waste services, and hospitality.
At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney has the experience and resources to help you obtain a just recovery for an occupational illness or a workplace accident. He has helped thousands of injured and ill workers. We work with experienced medical specialists who understand occupational diseases. To speak with a respected workers’ compensation lawyer, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or use my online contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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