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Workers’ Compensation and Lung Disease – At Risk Jobs

What types of jobs create a risk of lung disease for North Carolina and Virginia workers

Many jobs are known to be bad for your lungs, according to Health.com, including the following. Some seem fairly obvious. Others will surprise you.

  • Mining. Coal mining and other types of mining are known to cause pneumoconiosis and COPD. Mining is subject to numerous government regulations to help address this known danger.
  • Construction. Inhaling dust while performing renovations or demolitions creates a risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Many insulation products can cause asthma unless there are proper controls. Workers may need to wear “protective gear, including a respirator, when working around older buildings.” Construction workers can also be exposed to silica dust when they work with drywall, insulation, and other products
  • Manufacturing. “Newer materials, such as nanoparticles and ITO (indium tin oxide) used to make LCD screens” can be dangerous. Exposure to molten metals is known to cause COPD and other lung illnesses. Employees in the aerospace industry may be exposed to beryllium which can be inhaled or absorbed by the skin.
  • Agricultural work. “Many agricultural workers are exposed to endotoxin, a product of bacterial growth. Animal feeding operations can be dangerous. Manure collection pits increase the risk of allergic responses and exposure to ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxins.”
  • Medical work. Latex allergies can cause “asthma-type reactions.”
  • Textile work. Byssinosis, also called brown lung disease, is common among textile workers who make upholstery, towels, socks, bed linens, and clothes.” Textile workers may inhale particles when cotton is ripped apart which can cause obstruction of the airways. Workers who work with various types of upholstery and products with nylon fibers are also at risk of lung disease.
  • Cleaning jobs.  Disinfectants are known to cause asthma or make asthma worse.  Safer, greener, cleaning products are generally available.
  • Education work.  Some older public school buildings have mold growth that can produce irritation and make asthma worse, he explains. Crowded schools can increase the risk of acquiring the flu. Schools should be properly ventilated.
  • Auto repair work. Auto-body workers are exposed to various products such as spray-on paints (with isocyanate or polyurethane products) that can affect the skin, cause allergies, and create breathing problems including asthma attacks. “Respirators, gloves, goggles, and ventilation can help.”
  • The transportation industry. “Delivery truck drivers, those who unload merchandise on loading docks, and railroad industry workers can be at risk for COPD. In these cases, diesel exhaust is a major factor.” Diesel exhaust is fairly common even though newer engines emit less diesel exhaust. Protective masks can help along with replacing older diesel equipment with newer equipment.
  • Firefighting jobs. These workers regularly inhale dangerous chemicals and smoke from burning buildings – even with good quality breathing apparatus. For starters, not every firefighter wears the equipment, “especially during the so-called overhaul phase, when firefighters sift through debris to ensure that the fire doesn’t reignite.” Firefighters should wear their respiratory protective equipment even after the fire is out – and during all stages of the fight.
  • Baking. Flour dust exposure can cause allergies. Bakers may also suffer asthmatic reactions to enzymes used to alter the consistency of dough. Exposure to various insects which are sometimes found in flour can also cause lung disorders. Bakers should consider wearing protective masks and working where there is good ventilation.
  • Bartending. Yes. This occupation has a risk of lung disease too – mainly because bartenders often work in rooms where there are a lot of smokers. Secondhand smoke can cause lung disorders. Many communities outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is continually trying to set safety standards to help reduce the risk of developing a lung disorder or other occupational disease.

What are the symptoms of lung diseases?

The symptoms are different depending on the type of lung disease, how long the employee was exposed, and other factors.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the main signs and symptoms of interstitial lung disease are:

  • Shortness of breath at rest or aggravated by exertion
  • A dry cough

“Interstitial lung disease describes a large group of disorders, most of which cause progressive scarring of lung tissue. The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease eventually affects your ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into your bloodstream.”

As mentioned, other lung disorders have the same and/or other symptoms.

How is lung disease diagnosed?

According to the Mayo Clinic, interstitial lung disease is diagnosed in many ways including:

  • Blood tests. “Certain bloodwork can detect proteins, antibodies and other markers of autoimmune diseases or inflammatory responses to environmental exposures, such as those caused by molds or bird protein.”
  • Imaging tests including CT scans and echocardiograms.
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Lung tissue analysis. Common tissues tests include a bronchoscopy, a bronchoalveolar lavage, and a surgical biopsy.
  • As mentioned elsewhere, it is important to determine the specific stage of the lung disease, and this is done by way of a B-Reading of a lung x-ray, by a Pulmonary doctor who is certified to perform and grade such B-readings.

These and other tests are used for the diagnosis of other types of lung disorders.

What treatments are used for lung disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “the lung scarring that occurs in interstitial lung disease can’t be reversed, and treatment will not always be effective in stopping the ultimate progression of the disease.” Treatments are often designed to improve symptoms and/or slow the progress of the disease.

Doctors “may” recommend corticosteroid medications, medications such as Esbriet and Ofev to slow the rate of the disease, and medications to reduce stomach acid.

Oxygen therapy can’t stop lung damage but it may help make it easier to breathe, “Prevent or lessen complications from low blood oxygen levels, improve your ability to sleep, and reduce your blood pressure on the right side of your heart.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation helps patients with physical exercise, breathing techniques, and emotional support.

In some cases, lung transplantation may be considered. Chemotherapy may also be considered.

What can an employee recover for lung disease contracted at work?

Many occupational disease cases settle based on the employee’s past and future workers compensation payments as well as future medical expenses related to the disease.

Past and future loss of earnings – up to the limits permitted by North Carolina and Virginia law, which are 2/3rds of the average weekly wage, in most cases up to 500 weeks.  There may be federal programs specifically targeted to compensate for certain diseases such as the Black Lung Program under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.

With respect to Black Lung disease, otherwise known as coal miner’s pneumoconiosis, there are also payments available, even if the injured worker is not prevented from working.  The level of payment depends on level or classification of the stage of the disease. That level or classification, is, in turn, determined by a qualified pulmonary physician who is certified to read the International Labour Office Classification lung-X-rays of the injured worker. This type of doctor is otherwise known as a B-Reader.  According to the Virginia Code at 65.2-504, the amounts a worker who contracts black lung disease are  as follows:

  • For the first stage, up to 50 weeks of payments at 2/3rds of the average weekly wage.
  • For the 2nd stage, pneumoconiosis, assuming there is no work impairment, he or she is entitled for up to 100 weeks of payments at 2/3rds of the average weekly wage.
  • For 3rd stage pneumoconiosis, and he or she is not otherwise impaired from work, the worker would be entitled to up to 300 weeks of compensation at the rate of 2/3rds of his or her average weekly wage.

If the coal worker also has an “A, B, or C” designation under the B-reading, meaning there is also progressive fibrosis for any stage of the disease, and there is enough pulmonary function loss,  and his or her doctor instructs the coal worker not to return to the dusty work environment, then that worker shall be deemed to have a permanent disability for the last 3 years prior to the filing of his or her claim, as well as entitlement to ongoing payments at 2/3rds of the worker’s average weekly wage, for the remainder of his or her life.

If death results from Coal Worker’s pneumoconiosis, then the claim must be made by the coal worker’s dependents within 3 years of his or her death, and the amount recovered is payable to the extent required by Federal Law, as permitted by Title IV of the 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act (FCMHSA).

Payments for asbestosis or silicosis,  assuming the injured worker is still working, insofar as ongoing payments, are identical to black lung disease in terms of the stages and are set forth in the same statute that lists payments for other permanent partial impairments at VA Code 65.2-503 (17).

At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our firm has been a strong advocate for injured and ill workers for more than 31 years. We fight to ensure your claim is approved and that you receive all the benefits you deserve. To discuss any lung disease claim or any other work injury/work illness claim, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or use my online contact form to make an appointment.

Employees in North Carolina and Virginia who have a work injury case can also use our New Electronic Case Review. This link is being used by us during the pandemic so that workers can communicate with us remotely.

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