Learn how to file a workers’ comp claim to get maximum compensation for a respiratory disease
Some jobs put workers at an increased risk of breathing issues and respiratory diseases. Environments like coal mines, factories and construction demolition sites, for example, expose workers to unhealthy chemical and organic contaminants in the air that can lead to severe respiratory problems over time.
Fortunately, workers who develop an occupational lung disease are generally eligible to receive Georgia workers’ compensation benefits.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employer-reported respiratory illnesses increased by almost 4,000% in 2020, with more than 428,000 cases reported. That’s up from only 10,800 reported cases in 2019.
Types of occupational respiratory diseases
An occupational respiratory disease refers to a respiratory illness or condition that is caused by a work environment. Most work-related lung diseases have the same symptoms as other respiratory ailments, which can vary depending on their cause and severity.
Common lung infections like influenza and COVID-19 can be spread by sick coworkers. Other serious workplace respiratory ailments come from airborne contaminants other than communicable viruses.
Below is a list of some of the most common work-related respiratory diseases:
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) is an inflammatory immune response that can be triggered when a worker inhales certain substances. Bacteria, mold, bird proteins and certain chemicals can trigger the condition. Fever, shortness of breath and chills are among the most common symptoms. HP can be chronic and can cause scarring of the lung tissue.
- Work-related asthma may appear in people who have never been diagnosed with asthma. It can also worsen symptoms in people who have had asthma prior to working in a contaminated environment. Asthma is most likely work-related if the symptoms only emerge in the workplace and if they disappear outside of work.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) occurs when a worker breathes in mineral dust, metal fumes, organic particles (like wood grains), diesel exhaust or chemical vapors. Smoking can also cause COPD. Workers who already have COPD from smoking may experience aggravated symptoms if they work in an environment that exposes them to harmful airborne particles.
- Interstitial or fibrotic lung diseases refer to a group of more than 100 lung disorders in which the lungs develop inflammation and scarring that lead to chronic disease, making it difficult to breathe. Dust from minerals like silica, asbestos and coal dust can cause interstitial or fibrotic lung diseases when inhaled.
Asbestosis is a form of interstitial lung disease that can occur in workers who have inhaled asbestos fibers. Prolonged inhalation of asbestos can cause the lungs to become scarred and stiffened. Asbestos is most often found in buildings that were constructed before unsealed asbestos was banned in U.S. construction projects. Asbestos exposure can also lead to an aggressive form of cancer called mesothelioma.
- Silicosis. Similar to asbestosis, silicosis is caused by inhaling airborne crystalline silica in mining and manufacturing environments that handle stone, clay and glass.
- Textile workers or employees who process hemp, flax and cotton are at an increased risk of developing byssinosis, also referred to as brown lung disease.
- Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. Coal mine workers who inhale coal dust are at risk of developing coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease.
Symptoms of work-related respiratory diseases
Many work-related respiratory diseases share similar symptoms. Examples of common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath that worsens with activity
- Chest pain
- Feeling of tightness in the chest
- Abnormal breathing pattern
- Throat irritation
Learn how the workers’ compensation system has helped advance workers’ rights and create safer work environments across the U.S.
Georgia workers’ compensation benefits for respiratory diseases
In Georgia, most employers with 3 or more workers (including part-time) are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.
Eligible workers can receive workers’ compensation benefits if they contract a respiratory disease while on the job. The workers’ comp claims process doesn’t require workers to prove that their employer negligently caused their injury or illness—only that their injury or illness was a direct result of their job or their work environment.
Under Georgia law, independent contractors are typically not eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim through their employer’s insurance policy. In most cases, workers must be classified as employees to be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
Types of workers’ comp benefits
Workers’ compensation benefits cover the following:
- Medical expenses. All necessary medical appointments, surgeries, rehabilitation and supplies are covered under workers’ compensation.
- Lost wages. Injured workers are entitled to receive payments to cover a portion of their lost income (typically two-thirds of their average weekly wage) if they have to take time off from work due to their injury.
- Death benefits. If an occupational respiratory illness causes an employee’s death, the worker’s dependents are entitled to receive workers’ compensation death benefits to cover funeral costs, lost income and related medical expenses prior to the worker’s death.
How do I file a workers’ comp claim in Georgia?
To start receiving workers’ comp benefits in Georgia, workers should take the following steps:
- See a doctor. Seek medical attention immediately so you can receive treatment and prevent your injury or illness from getting worse. A doctor will also be able to provide medical documentation of your injury, which is necessary for a workers’ comp claim.
- Notify your employer. If you experience symptoms of respiratory illness while on the job, notify your employer immediately. Georgia law requires workers to notify their employer within 30 days of discovering their injury or illness. After receiving notification, the process requires the employer to file a claim with its workers’ comp insurance company.
- File a claim. The next step in the process is for you to file Form WC-14 with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
- Contact an attorney. If you need help with your claim or your claim is denied, contact an attorney to ensure your rights are protected.
How to avoid respiratory illness in the workplace
Employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe in the workplace. Creating industry-recommended and legally-mandated safety procedures is only the beginning.
- Employers should require supervisors to monitor employees to ensure compliance with workplace safety protocols.
- Maintaining adequate ventilation in the workplace will reduce the likelihood of workers becoming ill due to poor air quality.
- Employers should provide each worker with proper respiratory protection equipment, like dust masks.
Workers can minimize their risk of developing an occupational lung disease by avoiding exposure to contaminants and always following workplace safety procedures, including using protective equipment like a dust mask or ventilator.
Keep in mind that workers who become ill due to respiratory contaminants on the job may be eligible to receive workers’ comp benefits regardless of whether the worker was at fault for causing their injury or illness.
What is personal protective equipment (PPE)? Who is responsible for providing workers with proper PPE? Learn about employer and worker obligations, as well as state requirements.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
The workers’ compensation process is designed to be a fast and efficient way for injured employees to seek compensation. However, an attorney can help ensure the process goes smoothly.
A workers’ compensation attorney will make sure your respiratory illness is properly documented so your workplace exposure can be identified as the underlying cause. Your lawyer can also negotiate with your employer and their insurance company and quickly respond to challenges that may arise in the claims process.
If you believe you’re suffering from a work-related respiratory disease, contact the experienced Atlanta workplace accident attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation attorneys. Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers in Georgia recover compensation after an injury or illness.