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What is an occupational disease under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act?

Millions of employees suffer workplace or work-related injuries every year. The most common accidents include slips, falls, hits from falling objects, body strains from lifting or pushing heavy objects, and compression or crushing. Sometimes job-related accidents result in severe injuries and even death. Many industries have higher risks of injury due to the nature of the job or the work environment. Another type of employment risk is an occupational illness, which may cause employees to suffer sicknesses or diseases.

An occupational disease under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act occurs when employees acquire medical conditions caused by their employment. In such cases, the employee may have pre-existing health issues that worsen because of the activities and duties of their jobs. When this occurs, the employer is responsible for the employee’s illness under the state’s worker’s compensation laws.

Under Pennsylvania law, the exclusive remedy for an employment-related illness is for the employee to file a workers’ compensation claim. The ill worker is eligible for benefits if the disease occurs while in the course of employment. However, the employee did not have to acquire the disease at or in the employer’s workplace.

State law lists the medical conditions that qualify as occupational diseases. For many illnesses, the claimant must work in a specific industry or have a particular job title. Pennsylvania worker’s compensation covers work-related diseases such as:     

  • Tuberculosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Chemical poisoning including, arsenic, mercury, radium, carbon monoxide
  • Infection or inflammation of the skin
  • Exposure or handling of asbestos or anthrax
  • Heart and lung diseases, arising directly out of the employment as a firefighter

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation may cover other occupational illnesses that are not listed if they meet the following requirements:

  • The employee’s exposure occurred because of his employment; 
  • The disease is peculiar to the employee’s industry or occupation; and
  • The disease is not common to the general population.

An employee with an occupational disease may miss days from work and receive medical care. Workers’ compensation pays for the medical bills associated with the illness and provides wage compensation for missed days from work. If the treating doctor finds that the worker has a temporary or physical disability due to the disease, he may receive disability benefits for a certain length of time. However, when an employee dies from an occupational illness, the surviving spouses and children may receive compensation.

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