How does Georgia workers’ compensation cover occupational illnesses?

Workers in Georgia who contract occupational diseases may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, including coverage of their medical care.

Most people throughout Georgia, and elsewhere, are aware that workers in nearly every field and occupation may suffer injuries on the job. Sometimes, however, the harm that comes to employees in the workplace is not always immediately visible. Workers also commonly contract serious illnesses or diseases due to their work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rate of occupational illnesses in 2014 was 15.3 per 10,000 full-time workers.

What is an occupational disease?

In general, occupational diseases are those conditions that result from employees' work, or working environment. There are numerous ailments, which may be classified as occupational illnesses. According to the BLS, some of the most common of these conditions include the following:

• Skin diseases or disorders, such as contact dermatitis, rashes and eczema

• Poisoning due to the ingestion or absorption of toxic substances

• Hearing loss

• Respiratory conditions, including asbestosis, chronic obstructive bronchitis and tuberculosis

• Bloodborne pathogenic diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B or C, or histoplasmosis

These maladies, and other occupational diseases, may result due from exposure to loud noises, radiation, chemicals and other hazards, which may be present in the workplace. In some cases, the tools, supplies and other equipment used by employees may also cause occupational illnesses.

State protection

When employees in Georgia contract occupational diseases, they are protected under the state's workers' compensation law. Therefore, those who contract a disease or become ill on the job are generally eligible to receive benefits, including coverage of any medical treatment and care resulting from, and required for, their work-related illness. Additionally, they may be entitled to receive temporary or permanent disability pay.

Eligibility requirements

Under Georgia state law, only those conditions that arise out of, and in the course of, workers' employment are eligible for workers' compensation coverage. Furthermore, occupational diseases must have resulted from work-related hazards, or dangers in the workplace. Thus, employees must generally prove that their conditions were the result of their employment. To do this, they may be required to provide medical records to help show that their illness was not caused by outside factors.

Reporting occupational illnesses

Sometimes, workers may not develop symptoms or become disabled by occupational diseases until well after their exposure. In some cases, this can make it difficult to trace an illness back to a specific incident. Georgia state law specifies that workers have one year from the date when they knew, or reasonably should have known, of their condition and its relationship to their employment to file a claim . However, occupational diseases must be reported within seven years of a worker's last injurious exposure in order to qualify for workers' compensation.

Obtaining legal counsel

For some employees in Georgia who develop occupational diseases, proving their conditions are work-related can be difficult. Therefore, workers who find themselves suffering from occupational illnesses may find it of benefit to consult with an attorney. A lawyer may help them to understand their rights, and ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled.