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Occupational Disease in Pennsylvania

The Workers’ Compensation Act includes occupational disease in the definition of injury. Specifically, the coverage of occupational diseases applies with respect to the disability or death of an employee which results in whole or in part from the employee’s exposure to the hazard of occupational disease. Essentially, the disease must have been caused by or related to a person’s employment.

What is considered an occupational disease “injury”?

Any disease caused by employment and related to it is compensable. Additionally, even if an employee has a preexisting, nonoccupational disease, if that disease is aggravated by occupational exposures, it qualifies as an injury under the Act. Some examples of injuries under the Act are bronchitis, pneumoconiosis, asthma, and dermatitis that were developed as a result of occupational exposure. Moreover, a disease resulting from medical treatment for an occupational injury is compensable. For example, if, while getting treatment for a work injury, you contract a disease from a blood transfusion, that is considered a work injury.

One common type of “injury” that can be aggravated is asthma. For example, many individuals have non-work-related asthma (i.e., they have had asthma their whole life).

Course of Employment

In order to be compensable under the Act, occupational disease must arise within the course of employment.

The course of employment may be established by either: (1) evidence that an occupational disease hazard exists at the particular place of employment (factory hazard); or (2) evidence that the disease is a hazard of the industry or general occupation (industry hazard) in which the employee is engaged. This permits the application of the rebuttable presumption of causation.

Certain Diseases have a Presumption

The course of employment may be established by either: (1) evidence that an occupational disease hazard exists at the particular place of employment (factory hazard); or (2) evidence that the disease is a hazard of the industry or general occupation (industry hazard) in which the employee is engaged. This permits the application of the rebuttable presumption of causation.

Certain diseases, once established as a diagnosis, are entitled to a presumption that they were caused by employment. This means that the employee does not need to prove that the disease arose out of and in the course of employment; rather that the disease arose out of and in the course of employment.

Some examples of these diseases that carry a presumption include:

  • Hepatitis C if you are a professional/volunteer firefighter, volunteer ambulance corps personnel, volunteer rescue, and lifesaving personnel, emergency medical services personnel, and paramedics

Disability or death must “result from” the occupational disease

The Act requires that disability or death must result from an occupational disease.

Firefighter Cancer

The Act includes an amendment to the enumerated diseases, adding a subsection to specifically address cancer suffered by a firefighter that is caused by exposure to a known carcinogen, recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Entitlement to compensation under this subsection is limited to firefighters who:

  • Have served 4 or more years in continuous firefighting duties
  • Can establish direct exposure to a carcinogen
  • Successfully passed a physical examination prior to asserting a claim or before engaging in firefighting duties and the examination failed to reveal any evidence of the condition of cancer.

When do I need to notify my Employer?

The time for giving notice begins to run when you have knowledge, actual or constructive, of a disability in existence resulting from occupational disease, as well as having a possible relationship to the employment. Typically, this is when the employee stops working because of their occupational disease.

Contact a Lawyer

To help determine if you have sustained an occupational disease as a result of your employment and are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, give Stern & Cohen a call at 215-999-1443.

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