What are occupational diseases, and when are they compensable in Ohio?

Occupational diseases, which arise from exposure to harmful substances or environments, must meet strict criteria to qualify for workers’ compensation.

When workers in Mayfield Heights worry about the potential for workplace injuries, they may think primarily of sudden traumatic injuries. However, a significant number of disabling workplace injuries and illnesses, from asbestosis to carpal tunnel syndrome, develop much more subtly and gradually. Fortunately, victims of these conditions, which are known as occupational diseases, may qualify for workers' compensation benefits if they meet specific criteria.

What is an occupational disease?

A disease that results from workplace exposure to harmful substances or working conditions may be considered an occupational disease, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Illnesses that stem from exposure to chemicals, dust, organisms, radiation or gases may be considered occupational diseases. Physical injuries that manifest due to repetitive motions, excessive noise, physical vibrations or extremes of temperature and pressure can also be considered occupational diseases.

Which diseases are compensable?

The Ohio Revised Code includes a list of recognized occupational diseases, but this list is not exhaustive, and it does not guarantee claim approval for workers who suffer from listed conditions. Any work-related injuries or illnesses that meet the definition of an occupational disease may qualify for compensation, but workers must always prove the following three things:

• The worker was harmed due to some form of work-related exposure.

• The exposure directly caused the employee's injury or illness.

• The worker's duties or environment placed the worker at greater risk of developing the condition than the general public faces.

In some cases, proving that an occupation creates a high risk of a disease may be simple. For example, the Ohio Revised Code acknowledges the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease that firefighters and police officers face due to exposure to heat, smoke and toxic fumes. For these professionals, claiming benefits for one of these conditions may be fairly straightforward. For other occupational diseases, however, establishing that an occupation-related risk exists may be more challenging.

When should workers file claims?

Victims of occupational diseases may lose their eligibility for workers' compensation benefits if they do not file claims within the state's statute of limitations. According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, victims generally must file claims within two years of the date of disability. This is the date that a worker first received a diagnosis, secured treatment or quit working due to the medical condition.

This deadline for filing a claim may be extended in cases in which a worker received a delayed diagnosis, however. Workers can file claims for occupational diseases within six months of receiving a diagnosis, and this additional period may be used to extend the regular claim deadline.

Is legal help necessary?

Although employees can file workers' compensation claims without legal representation, seeking assistance may be advisable for victims of occupational diseases. Proving that work-related exposure directly caused an occupational disease can be challenging, as can navigating the general claims process. A workers' compensation attorney may be able to assist an injury victim and improve the likelihood that compensation will eventually be awarded.