Work-related illnesses or diseases can be serious and life-altering, just like work-related accidents. Therefore, workers’ compensation extends to virtually any type of work injury, including occupational diseases or illnesses.

Unlike many work injuries, work illnesses can also be caused by a variety of other factors, so they can be difficult claims to prove. However, Massachusetts law protects employees through workers’ compensation for illnesses so that employers will continue to use safety measures to shield their employees from dangerous substances. This is true even if the illness only manifests itself long after the exposure and even if you have already left that particular place of employment.

Mandatory Reporting of Certain Work-Related Illnesses

Massachusetts takes work-related injuries seriously, which is why healthcare providers in this state are required to report diseases or illnesses that were likely caused by working conditions to the Department of Public Health. This reporting requirement is in place to help recognize and address occupational diseases or illnesses because they often go undiagnosed as related to work.

Healthcare providers are required to report the following injuries, illnesses, or diseases:

  • Lung disease, including asthma, chemical pneumonitis, silicosis, asbestosis, and Beryllium disease that is caused or aggravated by workplace conditions
  • Chemical poisoning, including pesticide poisoning and carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Heavy metal absorption from mercury, cadmium, lead, and other metals

Healthcare providers are also required to report work injuries that are serious and traumatic and affect individuals less than 18 years of age.

The law requires this reporting so that employers and the state can continually improve working conditions for employees. It is important to see a doctor if you suspect that you have any serious illness or disease. If you think that it may have been caused by or related to your employment, you should be sure to mention that as well.

Illnesses that Arise Long After Exposure

Workers often do not realize that they have been exposed to toxic chemicals or other harsh substances until long after the fact. Exposure may only begin to cause problems for the worker years after exposure.

Asbestos is the most well-known toxic substance associated with work exposure. Asbestos will often cause eventual lung problems, particularly lung cancer, but these problems may not appear until 10 to 40 years after asbestos exposure. Toxic mold exposure is another common example.

Workers’ compensation can still apply to these types of illnesses even though exposure occurred years ago, and even where you may have already left that particular employment. You should nonetheless report the illness to the employer, even when you no longer work in that position. Filing a claim immediately after you realize the connection between the illness and your working experience is also important.

From a practical standpoint, illness cases that occur years after exposure can be difficult to prove. It is hard to definitively say that work caused the illness when there may have been other factors in your life that contribute to the illness, such as simple genetics or a smoking habit. Nonetheless, you should speak with a Sharon workers’ compensation attorney so you understand your rights and options.