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Workers’ compensation provides coverage for both accidents and occupational diseases. Most accidents are easy to recognize: a specific event or unusual exposure that causes an injury. Spotting an occupational disease is trickier – and as a result, most occupational disease claims go unrecognized by worker and unfiled as workers’ comp claims.

The legal definition of an occupational disease is an injury or illness that is characteristic of the person’s type of employment. The question is not how you do your job or how your particular employer does things – it’s whether everyone who does the same type of work as you has the same sort of exposure and the resulting injury or illness is common in the field.

One example of an occupational disease is asbestosis for a construction worker. The Workers’ Comp Board has long recognized that construction workers are frequently exposed to asbestos when demolishing or renovating old buildings, and that asbestosis is an occupational disease for workers in an occupation that involves routine exposure to asbestos. Another example is carpal tunnel syndrome for a meat-wrapper – or any job that involves repetitive use of the hands.

Occupational diseases typically develop over the course of a working career as the result of an accumulation of micro-traumas or exposures. It is not uncommon for a worker to seek medical treatment at one point in time, miss time from work at another point in time, and discover that the problem is work-related at a third. The Board will usually choose one of those three events as the “date of disablement” to measure the legal time limitations and to identify the responsible employer. The best course of action for the worker is to seek legal advice as soon as you think a medical problem in order might be work-related to make sure the claim is timely filed.


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