Occupational Illness and Workers’ Compensation

On-the-job injuries do not always take the form of a broken leg or an injured back. Some injuries you experience are the result of exposure to dangerous substances or excessive noise, such as infectious diseases or hearing loss, and it may take time before you realize the extent of your injuries. Such injuries may constitute an occupational illness which is covered under the law by workers’ compensation benefits.

What Constitutes an Occupational Illness?

An occupational illness is one that occurs while you are carrying out duties in the interest of your employer. It must be related to the type of work you do, and a clear cause and effect must be present between the disease, injury, or illness and your work. Such illnesses usually develop over an extended period of time on the job, and the symptoms may not appear immediately after exposure.

Types of Occupational Illness


Some common types of occupational illnesses are closely tied to specific jobs or industries. These occupational illnesses include those developed by firemen with four or more years of service suffering from heart and lung disease; and healthcare workers exposed to blood who contract hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. In addition to health care workers, corrections personnel and social service workers are also commonly exposed to tuberculosis.

There are also occupations that involve exposure to, direct contact with, or preparation of compounds that can lead to chemical poisoning or skin disease. This, in turn, often leads to arsenic, lead, phosphorous, manganese, beryllium, or mercury poisoning.

Lung diseases are especially common if you handle anthracite dust, bituminous coal, or silicon dioxide on a regular basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Nearly 30% of COPD and adult asthma may be attributable to occupational exposure.” You may have heard of brown lung, anthracosilicosis, silicosis, flock worker’s lung, farmer’s lung, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or bronchiolitis obliterans — all of these are lung diseases that can be related to your occupation. Exposure to the toxic mineral asbestos is well known for causing mesothelioma, a terminal cancer, and chronic lung disease.

It might surprise you to learn that the CDC reports hearing loss as the most common occupational disease. Bilateral hearing loss in excess of 10% may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and, unlike most of the diseases we have discussed, it’s not directly tied to any particular industry.

Non-Industry Specific Illnesses

Asbestos safety

There are other diseases that may merit workers’ compensation benefits but are not so clearly defined as the ones just discussed. Here are the criteria for such diseases to be considered work-related:

  • You were/are exposed to the disease by reason of employment
  • The disease is related to your occupation or the industry in which you were/are working
  • The disability must have occurred within 300 weeks of your last exposure to the hazardous substance that is responsible for your injury (if it does not cause disability or death within this timeframe, your claim for workers’ compensation benefits will most likely be denied)

The key here is that you must be able to demonstrate that there is a direct relationship between the disease you are suffering and the work you are/were doing. For example, it might be difficult for an administrative assistant working in an office to claim arsenic poisoning resulted from everyday exposure on the job. There could, of course, be exceptions.

Construction workers

Note that to be covered by workers’ compensation, exposure to an occupational illness does not have to occur on your employer’s premises. A good example of that would be a construction worker exposed to silica dust on a construction site. In such a case, you would be working at the behest of your employer though not necessarily on the premises that belong to your employer.

What To Do If You Have an Occupational Illness

In the state of Pennsylvania, here is what you need to do if you believe that you have contracted an occupational illness:

  • You should report the illness to your employer as soon as possible, but no later than 120 days of when you first discovered your illness was related to your work
  • You must file workers’ compensation claims within three years of when you first discovered your illness was related to your work

These deadlines are important! Don’t wait until the last days of the deadlines to notify your employer or file a claim because it will only be harder to prove your illness is a direct result of your work as more time passes. Also, recall that if death or injury has not occurred within 300 weeks from exposure, your claim may be denied.


Occupational illnesses usually develop due to exposure to something that causes damage to your body over time, such as silica dust, asbestos, or excessive noise. The exposure must have occurred as a result of carrying out the interest of your employer but does not have to actually occur on your employer’s premises. If you can demonstrate that the illness developed as a result of the work that you did, then you may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Hillsberg Law

Do you have reason to believe that you are suffering from an occupational illness and need to file for workers’ compensation? My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg and I would like to help. I exclusively practice workers’ compensation claims and law in the state of Pennsylvania, and have been doing so since 1995. Contact Hillsberg Law today and let me help you obtain the compensation you deserve under the law.

The advice offered above is general in nature and may not be applicable to every case. Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended. Reliance on this advice does not represent the formation of an attorney-client relationship in the absence of a fee agreement with Mr. Hillsberg.

Get in Touch

Fill out the form with a brief description of your situation or call me at (610) 566-0600 and I’ll be in touch to schedule a free consultation.


Get in Touch

Fill out the form with a brief description of your situation or call me at (610) 566-0600 and I’ll be in touch to schedule a free consultation.