Most people understand that workers' compensation covers injuries resulting from workplace accidents. However, this is only half the story. Colorado workers' compensation law also provides coverage for so-called "occupational diseases."
Essentially, an occupational disease is a chronic ailment whose cause can be fairly traced to a person's employment. For an occupational disease to be work related, it must be shown that the hazard that caused the injury is something the worker is not equally exposed to outside the work environment. Some common forms of occupational disease include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries
- Chronic pain or back problems resulting from repeated lifting
Conditions brought about by long-term exposure to hazardous chemicals or poor air quality
Proving Occupational Disease Claims
Workers who develop occupational diseases are entitled to workers' compensation coverage just the same as workers who experience traumatic injuries in on-the-job accidents. However, proving an occupational disease claim can sometimes be more difficult.
Employers and insurance companies will often challenge occupational disease claims, asserting that the worker's condition arose from something other than the circumstances of his or her employment. Therefore, it is important for workers suffering from occupational diseases to take appropriate measures to protect their rights.
Colorado workers who are think they may be suffering from an occupational disease should take the following steps:
- Report the condition: Colorado workers' compensation law requires workers to report an occupational disease within 30 days of its onset. Under most circumstances, the report should be made to the worker's most recent employer, even if the injury can be traced to more than one job. Workers should be sure to report the injury as soon as they realize they are injured.
- Seek medical help: After a work injury is reported, employers are allowed to tell workers to seek treatment from a specific doctor. However, if the employer does not promptly recommend a particular provider, workers are free to choose their own doctor. It is important that the doctor draws a link between the job and the condition. Workers should be prepared to describe how their job duties contributed to their ailments.
- Talk to a lawyer: Employers and insurers have lawyers working to disprove workers' claims, so it is a good idea for workers with occupational diseases to consult with an attorney early on in the process, even if they aren't sure they need a lawyer. Most attorneys are happy to answer questions without charging a fee.
If you think you may be suffering from an occupational disease, you need to act quickly to protect your rights. A Colorado workers' compensation attorney can help you understand your options.