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Illinois’ Occupational Disease Act

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Many people are aware that workers can suffer injuries on the job, but not everyone knows that some of the harm that comes to employees in the workplace cannot always be immediately seen. There are also cases in which workers may contract a serious illness or disease as a result of their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 300,000 occupational diseases and illnesses were contracted in the year 2002 alone.

What is an occupational disease?

An occupational disease is an illness or condition that results from an employee’s work environment or “arising out of and in the course of employment”. Examples of conditions commonly contracted in the workplace include lung disease, mesothelioma, lead poisoning, asbestosis, eczema, skin cancer and hearing loss. These maladies, and others, can result from exposure to chemicals, loud noises, radiation and other hazards that may be present in the work environment or the tools, equipment and supplies used by employees.

State protection

When employees in Illinois develop occupational diseases, they are protected by the state’s Occupational Disease Act. Under the act, workers who become ill or contract a disease on the job are generally eligible for benefits similar to those offered through the state’s workers’ compensation law, including coverage of any medical treatment required for and resulting from their work-related condition, as well as partial and permanent disability pay.

In some cases, a worker may not develop symptoms or become disabled due to an occupational disease for months or even years after the exposure, which can make it difficult to trace an ailment back to a specific incident. Under the state’s workers’ compensation laws, a worker has only 45 days to report an injury or contagion exposure and must provide the date of the incident. While this would preclude many who develop an occupational disease from eligibility, the Occupational Disease Act gives employees more time in which to report their condition.

In order for a worker to receive compensatory benefits for an occupational disease, he or she must report their condition within three years of the date when the disease first developed or became disabling. Employees who contract occupational diseases must prove that their condition was caused by their employment. Workers are often required to provide their medical records to help show that their illness is not the result of outside factors.

Proving a condition is eligible for compensatory benefits can be difficult in some cases. Anyone who finds themself suffering from an occupational disease may find it of benefit to seek legal counsel. An attorney can help ensure you understand your options and that your rights are upheld.