Lung Diseases & Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Lung Disease

The Respiratory System is a vital system for one’s health. In many work environments, it is possible that Workers can sustain respiratory injuries. The consequences of such respiratory injuries can range from minor to serious to fatal. This article discusses the nature of industrial lung injuries.

What is the Respiratory System and Why is it Important?

The Respiratory System contains the lungs whose primary function is to supply the body with oxygen. Without oxygen, the body’s cells will die. This is why it is vital for the respiratory system to be working properly.

Our Respiratory System Consists of: 

  • The Respiratory Tract
  • Upper Airways (nose, mouth, throat)
  • Trachea, Bronchi(airways)
  • Alveoli (air sacs)
  • Pleura
  • Mucus Membrane

How Can Workers Get Their Lungs Injured at Work?

Depending on your occupation, many working environments contain a variety of substances that can cause lung problems. Many materials in the work environment that a worker can come into contact with can impact their respiratory system.

Work Environment exposures can include:

  • Dusts
  • Gases
  • Dust and Gases
  • Dust and Fumes
  • Gas and Fumes
  • Vapors

Respiratory Tract Injuries and Airwave Disease are lung conditions that may also be work-related. These injuries can also be caused by trauma. An example of a trauma is a worker sustaining a blow to the throat during a car accident.

Respiratory Tract Injuries include symptoms such as: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Hypoxia (a decrease in the amount of oxygen reaching various parts of the body)

Types of Airwave Diseases include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic
  • Obstructive
  • Pulmonary Disease
  • Bronchiectasis

What Lung Diseases Can Be Work-Related?

Lung Diseases that can be work-related include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Fibrosis
  • Cancer

How Can Exposures Impact Workers?

Workers can be exposed to a large variety of items which can impact their health. These materials can cause inflammation of the following respiratory tract functions:

  • The mucous membranes
  • Scarring of lung tissues
  • Cancer
  • Interruption of the use of oxygen by the body
  • Allergic reactions

What Types of Mineral Dusts Can Workers Be Exposed to in the Workplace?

The following list of mineral dusts can scar lungs and cause pneumococcus.

These Mineral Dusts include:

  • Silica
  • Asbestos
  • Coal
  • Talc
  • Hard Metal
  • Beryllium

Why Types of Gases can cause Respiratory Injuries?

  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Ozone
  • Phosgene
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Hydrogen Sulfide
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury
  • Vanadium Pentaoxide

Agents that case cause Airwave Disease?

  • Ammonia
  • Arsenic
  • Chlorine
  • Chromium
  • Coal Mine Dust
  • Coke Oven Emissions
  • Cotton Dust
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Phosgene
  • Toluene Diisocyante
  • Vanadium

Work Processes that Can Cause Air Contamination at Work Include the Following:

  • Abrasive blasting
  • Acid treatments
  • Blending and Mixing
  • Crushing
  • Degreasing
  • Electroplating
  • Forging
  • Furnace Operations
  • Grinding and/or Polishing
  • Machining
  • Mining
  • Painting
  • Soldering
  • Welding

What is Exposure? Why is It Important?

Exposure means the amount of contact that the worker had with the offending substance. Exposure is important in that it is determinate as to whether there is industrial causation for the respiratory injuries. An evaluating doctor will look at exposure in terms of three factors. They will look at how much exposure was there. They will look at how long the worker was exposed to the offending substance. They will look at how frequent they are exposed to the offending substance.

There are times when workers are exposed to offending substances at work but the amount of the exposure may not rise to the level of causing or contributing to the development of a lung disease. If there was not significant exposure, an evaluating physician may not able to find industrial liability.

Is a Worker’s Background Important is accessing Work-Related Lung Diseases?

Yes. There are many workers that have a background that make them susceptible to lung diseases. This includes whether they have or are currently a smoker. It includes whether they have underlying lung disease. Also, it includes whether they have a history of allergies. The worker’s background can have an impact on both causation and apportionment issues.

Does an Industrial Lung Disease have to be Entirely Work-Related to pursue a claim?

No. In California Workers’ Compensation Law, there is no requirement that the industrial exposure be the sole exposure to cause an injury. If the industrial exposure is contributory to the aggravation or acceleration of the disease process, a claim would be considered industrial. Further, if the industrial exposure, “lit up” the disease, it would be considered industrial as well.

Further, Workers’ Compensation Law has long understood the practicalities of proving up lung injury cases. The Supreme Court stated that “[i]n order to cover such unavoidable uncertainties, we require applicants to establish no more than that industrial causation is reasonably probable.” This was in the case of a firefighter who died of lung cancer. McAllister v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeals Board, 33 Cal. Comp. Cases 660, 1968 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 225, 69 Cal. 2d 408, 445 P.2d 313, 71 Cal. Rptr. 697 (Cal. October 4, 1968)

Are There Special Benefits in Workers’ Compensation for Employees Who Have Lung Disease Injuries?

Yes. For Pulmonary Fibrosis and Chronic Lung Disease injuries, an Injured Worker is entitled to 240 weeks of temporary disability benefits within the period of five years from the date of injury. See Labor Code Section 2656.

Where Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.