It has been about six weeks since we discussed how heat illness can put people who work outdoors in the summer at serious risk. Many workers are not vulnerable to heat illness, due to the nature of their jobs, but may still develop an occupational illness that makes them seriously ill, and may even cause their death.
An “occupational illness” is one that one catches or develops on the job. On its website, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics divides occupational illnesses into five categories:
1. Skin diseases or disorders. These include dermatitis, eczema or a rash caused by exposure to an irritant, sensitizer or poisonous plant.
2. Respiratory conditions. Inhaling hazardous chemicals, biological agents, dust, fumes or vapors can cause disease or damage to the lungs.
3. Poisoning. Similarly, contact with toxic substances like lead, mercury, arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene and many others can be very serious.
4. Hearing loss. Exposure to loud noise over time can cause permanent hearing loss.
5. Other occupational illnesses. Besides heat illness, workers sometimes develop frostbite, radiation sickness, and infection from bloodborne pathogenic diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Just as with a workplace injury, an occupational illness can be highly debilitating. Becoming ill on the job may take longer to develop than a dramatic injury, but when it reaches the point that the worker can no longer go to work, workers’ compensation may be necessary. These benefits can help a sickened worker pay the bills until he or she is well enough to get back to the job.