What Occupational Lung Diseases Are Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

When people think about work-related injuries, the first thing that comes to mind is often a strained back or carpal tunnel syndrome. However, many injuries that fall under the purview of workers’ compensation are occupational illnesses that develop over months or years of exposure to hazardous materials. These types of illnesses are especially dangerous because they may lie dormant for years before an injured party notices the effects, at which point the illness may have become terminal. Receiving treatment as soon as possible is key to minimizing the effects of these diseases on the lives of workers, so if you or a loved one live in Augusta, were exposed to dangerous substances on the job, and were recently diagnosed with a lung disease or respiratory ailment, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced Augusta workers compensation attorney who can walk you through the process of filing a claim.

Types of Occupational Illnesses

Some of the most common occupational illnesses that workers develop on the job include:

  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Occupational dermatitis, such as eczema;
  • Blood borne diseases;
  • Occupational cancers that affect the bladder, bones, liver, or lungs; and
  • Respiratory illnesses, such as asbestosis, chronic bronchitis, and tuberculosis.

Many of these illnesses are also commonly associated with unhealthy activities, such as poor diet and smoking. This is another reason that many workers do not become aware that their injury was caused by exposure at work until it is too late.

Lung Disease

One of the most deadly occupational illnesses is lung disease. These types of diseases are more common in certain types of employment, where it is necessary to work with dangerous substances or chemicals. For instance, many workers who are employed in mining-related jobs, or any job that requires drilling or blasting through the ground, are at risk of exposure to harmful dusts, which when breathed regularly can lead to the development of silicosis, an incurable lung cancer. Other types of occupational lung ailments include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a progressive disease that limits the amount of air moving in and out of the lungs;
  • Pneumoconiosis, which is caused by inhaling mineral dusts that permanently scar the lungs;
  • Coal workers pneumoconiosis (CWP), which is also referred to as black lung disease and can cause lesions in the lungs and significantly obstruct air flow;
  • Mesothelioma, a fatal lung cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs and is caused by inhaling asbestos;
  • Byssinosis, also known as brown lung, is caused by the inhalation of cotton fibers and can lead to coughing, chest tightness, asthma, and permanent lung damage;
  • Berylliosis, which can be a fatal lung disease that causes fatigue, weight loss, and shortness of breath; and
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans, which is caused by breathing in ingredients used in manufacturing popcorn and other flavorings, such as frostings, cake mixes, potato chips, syrups, and margarines that causes a dry cough and wheezing that worsens over time.

Occupations At Risk of Exposure 

Other workers, besides those employed in the mining industry that may be at risk of succumbing to lung disease include:

  • Construction workers, who are often exposed to silica dust through their work with cement, insulation, and drywall;
  • Farmers, who may develop severe allergies that cause asthma-like attacks and lung disease from long exposure to harvested grains;
  • Welders who work with molten metals are often exposed to toxic fumes that have been linked to Parkinson’s disease, COPD, and lung cancer;
  • Employees who work with nylon fibers, which are often found in carpets, blankets, and upholstery and when inhaled can cause lung inflammation and scarring;
  • Mechanics, railroad workers, and loading dock employees, who are susceptible to exposure to diesel fumes, which can cause serious respiratory diseases;
  • Cotton, flax, and hemp workers are at a higher risk of contracting byssinosis due to their proximity to dangerous fibers;
  • Aerospace workers are often exposed to beryllium, which is a light metal used in constructing satellites and airplanes that can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled; and
  • Flavorings workers and those who work in popcorn plants, who may be more likely to develop bronchiolitis obliterans.

However, it is important to keep in mind that even those who work in offices can be exposed to dangerous substances, such as toxic mold and asbestos, which are known to cause cancer and brain damage.

Common Symptoms

Although symptoms vary depending on the specific lung disease, the type of substance inhaled, and the length of exposure, many lung ailments caused by exposure to dangerous materials have similar symptoms, which include:

  • An abnormal breathing pattern;
  • Chest pain;
  • Chest tightness;
  • Coughing; and
  • Shortness of breath.

Many of these symptoms could be the result of a number of different diseases, so it is important for those suffering from these problems, especially if they work in one of the aforementioned industries, to obtain a professional medical opinion as soon as possible. Patients with unidentified lung ailments are usually required to go through a series of diagnostic testing to discover the source of the problem. This testing could include any and all of the following:

  • A chest x-ray or CT scan;
  • Pulmonary function tests to help measure the lungs’ ability to pump air effectively;
  • Biopsies of lung tissue, cells, and fluids;
  • Tests to measure gas exchange functions; and
  • An examination of the airway or bronchial activity.

Once a lung disease has been diagnosed, physicians can begin the appropriate treatment, which could include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or the use of an oxygen machine.

Preventive Measures 

Many lung diseases are fatal, so taking preventive measures to decrease a person’s risk of exposure to dangerous fibers, chemicals, and dusts is crucial. These measures include:

  • Avoiding the inhalation of dangerous substances;
  • Refraining from smoking, which can increase the risk of contracting an occupational lung ailment;
  • Using protective equipment, such as facial masks while in the workplace;
  • Evaluating lung function with spirometry on a regular basis; and
  • Becoming educated about the risks of lung disease.

How an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help

If you live in Augusta and were exposed to dangerous substance in the workplace and have since been diagnosed with a lung disease, please contact the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. by completing one of our online contact forms and we will help you set up a free consultation with a dedicated workers’ compensation lawyer.