South Carolina Workers’ Comp for Respiratory Disease & Illness
Understand your right to workers’ comp benefits if you’re suffering from a work-related respiratory disease
Increasingly, respiratory diseases and illnesses are having a significant impact on the health and well-being of workers in South Carolina. Exposure to harmful substances, such as chemicals, dust, fumes, viruses and allergens, can lead to various respiratory conditions that range from mild irritations to severe chronic diseases.
These occupational respiratory hazards are a growing concern, as they can affect workers across many different industries and occupations. This article delves into the most common respiratory diseases and illnesses encountered in the workplace, explores their causes and risk factors, and explains the process of filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits if you’ve been affected.
Types of respiratory diseases
Respiratory diseases can adversely affect the lungs, sinuses and airways (bronchi and bronchioles) and are frequently caused by smoking, infection or inhaling toxic substances at work.
The following are the most common respiratory diseases that may be linked to work environments.
This chronic, long-term respiratory disease causes a narrowing of the airways. As a result, when you breathe out, it’s challenging to expel the air from your airways. You might experience wheezing, coughing or tightness in your chest.
If you’re exposed to excessive amounts of dust, gas, vapors or fumes at work, you’re more likely to develop work-related asthma. This is a known occupational hazard for farmers, animal handlers, workers in textile factories and food production workers.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is another respiratory disease that creates breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and issues with frequent coughing. Smoking is the most frequent cause of COPD, but it isn’t the only possibility.
Workplace exposures to chemical gasses, wood dust, diesel exhaust fumes, mineral dust, metallic fumes or pollution can also be the cause. Other possible causes include frequent exposure to secondhand smoke or improper ventilation when cooking over a fire.
Coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or black lung disease
When coal miners repeatedly inhale airborne coal dust, the dust particles can become lodged in their lungs. This results in the scarring and inflammation that are characteristic of black lung disease.
There are many substances like fungus spores, bird droppings, bacteria and certain chemicals that should not be inhaled. Sometimes repeated inhalation of these materials can cause this allergic lung disease, which is characterized by breathing difficulty. Air sacs within the lungs become inflamed, and the long-term result is fibrous scar tissue that forms in the lungs.
Byssinosis or brown lung disease
Brown lung disease is typically caused by chronically inhaling cotton dust or other small bits of textile fiber. It’s also possible to experience this by repeatedly inhaling bits of grain. Textile industry workers are most vulnerable to contracting this disease. Farmers and food manufacturers are also at risk.
Silicosis is another condition that causes lung scarring. This condition happens when a person inhales airborne particles of crystalline silica. Workers in mines, glass manufacturing facilities, metal casting factories and blasting operations are typically vulnerable to this type of exposure.
Interstitial or fibrotic lung diseases
There are about 100 different chronic lung disorders that are collectively known as interstitial lung disease. There’s one thing these disorders have in common: They all result in inflamed, scarred lungs and breathing difficulties. A dry cough is another frequent symptom of interstitial lung disease.
Definitive causes of these disorders are not well understood, but experts believe that workplace exposure to pollutants is typically a major contributing factor. A few of the substances believed to cause these disorders include beryllium, cobalt, silica, asbestos, coal dust, metals and indium, which is used in computer monitor production.
Bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens can cause a variety of respiratory infections. Examples include influenza, COVID-19 and psittacosis (a bacteria that can be transferred from birds to humans).
Transmission of these in occupational settings is commonplace. Healthcare workers, as well as farm workers and others who work with animals, tend to be especially vulnerable to contracting certain types of respiratory infections due to workplace exposure.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma
Asbestos is the collective name given to a group of strong, naturally occurring mineral fibers. Up until the 1980s, asbestos was frequently used in building materials such as paint, insulation, flooring and roofing. It was also used in automotive parts, corrugated papers and other products. Nowadays, its use is banned in most products—however, many older buildings and products still contain asbestos.
When asbestos paint, insulation or other materials are disturbed, the fibers can become airborne. Accidentally inhaling them can cause health problems such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Asbestosis happens when lung tissue becomes scarred as a result of asbestos inhalation. This condition is not cancerous, but it is a risk factor for later developing related cancers. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, is an aggressive cancer that infects the mesothelial tissue, a protective membrane that lines the internal organs, and often leads to death.
What causes respiratory diseases in the workplace?
Some of the most common causes of work-related respiratory diseases and illnesses include poor ventilation, exposure to pollutants and carcinogens, and a lack of safety measures and personal protective equipment.
Most common jobs where workers develop respiratory diseases
Some workers with the highest risk of developing a work-related respiratory disease or infection include the following:
- Military personnel
- Cleaning service workers
- Construction workers
- Farmers and other workers exposed to animals
- Healthcare workers
- Dock workers
- Bakers and flour and grain workers
- Textile manufacturers
- Rubber and plastic manufacturers
- Machine operators
- Welders and metal workers
- Glassware manufacturers
- Detergent manufacturers
- Drug manufacturers
- Laboratory workers
Are respiratory diseases covered under workers’ comp?
In South Carolina, workers’ comp covers occupational diseases and illnesses that directly result from the hazards you encounter at work. An occupational disease is considered to be one that is caused by a recognized hazard that is specific to a particular trade or occupation.
When workers become sick or injured because they were continuously exposed to a particular hazard as a result of the normal working conditions in their trade, worker’s comp will typically provide coverage.
How do you prove respiratory diseases are work-related?
According to South Carolina law, when making claims regarding occupational diseases, employees must provide evidence establishing that their diseases directly resulted from exposure to hazards in their particular employment.
If workplace exposure is causing asthma or other respiratory diseases, you’re likely to notice that the condition seems worse at work than it does when you’re away from work. If this is the case, promptly document your experiences in detail to use as future evidence.
The next step is to obtain a diagnosis and treatment from an employee-approved doctor. Usually, the doctor can arrive at a diagnosis by conducting a series of pulmonary function tests in and out of the workplace. The doctor might use specific inhalation challenge tests, immunologic tests, serial spirometry tests or peak expiratory tests.
Be sure to obtain a signed statement from your doctor that includes verification of your test results. It would also be helpful to have the doctor include documentation specifically stating that the environment and activities at your workplace were factors that directly caused or contributed to your illness.
It can also strengthen your case if statistics and studies are available that verify that other workers in your occupation have developed similar occupational respiratory diseases. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you gather such evidence and obtain expert opinions (if necessary) to further prove your claim.
Which South Carolina workers are eligible for benefits?
In South Carolina, most employers with 4 or more employees are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to cover their workers in case of a job-related injury or illness. To qualify for benefits, you must be classified as an employee (not an independent contractor).
Additionally, certain workers like agricultural workers, railroad workers and government employees typically don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, so check with a work injury attorney if you’re unsure about your eligibility.
What benefits are workers entitled to?
Workers’ compensation in South Carolina typically provides benefits for lost wages during recovery and all necessary medical treatment and supplies, as well as death benefits to certain surviving family members if a worker dies from a work-related injury or illness.
The amount you’re eligible to receive as a result of an occupational respiratory disease will vary. It depends on factors such as:
- How much you made prior to your injury
- The extent of your disease
- Whether or not you’re able to continue working
- Whether or not you need long-term medical treatment
Before accepting any lump-sum settlement offer, it’s always best to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can estimate the value of your claim. This will allow you to make an educated decision and be confident that you’ll have enough compensation to cover your future medical needs and other expenses.
How do you file a claim for workers’ comp in South Carolina?
It is advisable to speak with a qualified South Carolina attorney as soon as possible regarding your workers’ compensation claim. The attorney can advise you on how to go about notifying your employer of your illness and how to pursue a successful workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina.
After obtaining a diagnosis from an employer-approved physician, it’s essential that you report your respiratory illness or disease to your employer as soon as possible but no later than 90 days after contracting the illness or receiving a diagnosis.
In South Carolina, your employer is responsible for filing your workers’ compensation claim after they’ve received your notification regarding your illness.
If your employer does not take the appropriate actions to file your claim, you can fill out Form 50 and submit it to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission yourself, but it’s highly recommended that you reach out to an attorney to help you with the process.
Employers’ duties to provide a safe working environment
According to Section 41-15-80 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, employers must furnish a place of employment that is free from any recognized hazards that can cause serious physical harm to their employees. They must also comply with all applicable occupational safety and health rules.
This includes providing proper ventilation and safety equipment such as masks, respirators and gloves. Employees must proactively use these items when they are at work. Employers can also provide regular air quality monitoring.
Contact an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney
Perhaps you’re coughing, wheezing, having a hard time breathing, or experiencing other common symptoms of occupational respiratory diseases. If you believe you’ve been exposed to hazardous substances or situations at work, you might be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Worker’s compensation claims are not always straightforward or easy, but help is available. Your chances of submitting a successful workers’ compensation claim are best if you work with an attorney who has experience handling workers’ comp claims involving respiratory illnesses and other occupational diseases.
At Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega, we believe that every employee is entitled to a safe work environment. When illnesses do occur, you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’re going to afford your medical care or pay your bills. That’s why our Columbia workers’ compensation attorneys offer free, no-obligation consultations to give you the help and information you need to get back on the road to recovery.
We have extensive experience in workers’ comp claims involving all kinds of occupational diseases, including respiratory illnesses, so contact us today to see how we can help you get maximum compensation for your claim.