A guide to recovering compensation for workers who get sick after exposure to cotton particles at work
Some work-related illnesses can affect workers’ lungs and their breathing. When workers are continuously exposed to certain substances or chemicals over a long period of time without the proper precautions to protect them, it can lead to long-term harm. Employers are obligated to ensure that their workers remain safe in any dangerous condition to prevent any type of lung disease. This includes brown lung disease.
This article will discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment for brown lung disease, as well as your rights to workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia if you’ve been affected.
What causes brown lung disease?
Brown lung disease, also known as byssinosis, is a rare work-related illness that affects workers who are exposed to raw cotton, hemp or flax fibers. Without any precautionary measures, workers who work in cotton mills and fields or in the textile industry can suffer dangerous effects from breathing in the fibers.
Workers in Georgia and other parts of the U.S. who suffer from byssinosis almost always acquire this respiratory disease from being around unprocessed cotton. Those whose jobs involve opening bales of cotton during the initial processing stage are most at risk of developing brown lung disease.
Although there are safety guidelines set forth to minimize the number of workers affected by the condition, this is not enough to protect everyone.
What are the symptoms of brown lung disease?
Certain situations can worsen the symptoms of brown lung disease. For example, if you’re a smoker or already have a different respiratory condition, such as asthma, you may have worse symptoms.
The onset of byssinosis symptoms often appears early in the week for many workers and may improve by the end of that week. However, continuous exposure to tiny cotton particles can result in constant health issues.
Those symptoms include the following:
- Dry cough
- Chest tightness
- Muscle and joint pain
If you have limited exposure to cotton dust, your symptoms may disappear over time. However, even workers who completely stop working around cotton particles may still suffer long-term lung damage and impairment.
Which workers are most at risk of brown lung disease?
Textile workers, cotton mill workers and anyone who is continuously exposed to raw cotton, hemp, flax and dust are at the highest risk of developing brown lung disease. Those who have a history of allergies or asthma and who smoke also have a greater risk of byssinosis.
How is brown lung disease diagnosed?
If you develop symptoms of brown lung disease, a doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your work and other activities to determine whether you’ve been exposed to dust particles. They may also order certain tests like a chest X-ray, CT scan and pulmonary function test to determine the extent of damage to your lungs.
Additionally, doctors often give peak flow meters to test lung function over the course of a week while you’re at work. This test requires you to take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can through a tube to see how much air you’re able to blow out. If there are any notable changes in your breathing, it can help the doctor to make a diagnosis and determine when you’re being exposed to cotton dust.
What is the treatment and prognosis for
brown lung disease?
If you’re diagnosed with brown lung disease, one of the first and most effective treatment options is to avoid exposure to cotton dust. Doctors also prescribe bronchodilators to help open up the airways in those with mild to moderate symptoms.
For more severe instances of the disease, inhaled corticosteroids may be prescribed to help with lung inflammation. These drugs carry the risk of fungal infections in the mouth and throat. If your doctor prescribes these drugs, you can minimize your risk by thoroughly rinsing your mouth after taking them.
In some cases, supplemental oxygen may be needed. For chronic brown lung disease, a nebulizer may be prescribed. Sometimes, breathing exercises and an increase in physical activity can also improve your lung function. However, it may also be necessary to quit your job in the cotton or textile industry to prevent further damage.
Brown lung disease often dissipates once your exposure to harmful cotton dust ends. Usually, it isn’t chronic or life-threatening, but staying on top of your symptoms and recognizing the cause can help.
How to prevent brown lung disease
Brown lung disease is a preventable condition. Wearing a protective face mask while exposed to cotton dust can help protect your lungs. Employers have a duty to keep their workers safe and are required to follow all guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Masks and respirators such as N95s can help protect workers. Avoiding smoking or quitting altogether is another preventive measure.
Is brown lung disease covered under workers’ comp
Georgia workers with brown lung disease are eligible to get workers’ comp benefits because the condition is an occupational disease.
Continuous exposure to cotton dust and particles during your job can affect your physical health and ability to be productive. As a result, it’s your legal right to file a claim with your employer.
Georgia workers’ compensation law
In Georgia, all public and private employers with 3 or more employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. It doesn’t matter if those employees are full- or part-time or even family members. Eligible workers must be considered W2 employees and not independent contractors.
Find out about MMI, how it can affect your workers’ compensation case in Georgia, and how it can impact the resolution and payout of your claim.
What workers’ comp benefits are available to workers?
Georgia workers who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses are able to recover the following workers’ comp benefits:
- Medical expenses. These benefits cover the costs of medical expenses, ongoing treatment, prescriptions, equipment, therapy, surgery and other medical-related needs.
- Lost wages. Workers’ comp pays injured and ill workers two-thirds of their average weekly wages while they’re unable to work.
- Death benefits. If a worker dies from their illness or injury, their family receives death benefits to cover funeral expenses and lost earnings.
Steps to file a workers’ compensation claim in Georgia
After suffering brown lung disease or any work-related illness or injury, take these steps immediately in Georgia to collect workers’ compensation:
- See a doctor for a medical evaluation and diagnosis.
- Report the illness to your employer within 30 days of the discovery/diagnosis of your occupational disease. You will then need to see a physician approved by your employer to confirm your diagnosis.
- To start a workers’ comp claim, you must file Form WC-14 with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. Make sure to include all necessary documentation to support your claim.
- Contact an attorney right away if your claim is denied or you want help filing your claim.
Statute of limitations for occupational illness workers’ comp claims
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a workers’ comp claim related to occupational illness is 1 year.
If you don’t file within 1 year of discovering your lung disease, you will not be able to recover benefits.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ comp cases involving brown lung disease and other similar work-related illnesses can be complex. Employers often try to deny legitimate workers’ comp claims because paying out claims increases their insurance premiums.
They may try to say your claim is not valid because of a pre-existing condition, or they may offer you benefits but in an amount that’s far less than you deserve. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can gather evidence and negotiate with your employer and their insurer so you get maximum compensation.
If you developed brown lung disease after working in Georgia, contact our injury attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers throughout the Atlanta area recover compensation after an injury or illness.