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Q

I was recently diagnosed with cancer. My doctor says that my cancer is an occupational disease that affects workers in my field. What is an occupational disease? Does my diagnosis mean that I am eligible for Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits?

A

An occupational disease is an illness of health condition that is caused by one’s working conditions. Examples of occupational diseases include loss of hearing, repetitive motion injury, asthma, radiation illnesses, miners’ nystagmus, and cancers such as mesothelioma that are caused by chemical exposure.

Workers’ compensation laws protect workers’ rights when they suffer from occupational diseases, but there are time limitations. In order to qualify for workers’ compensation, you must be diagnosed with the occupational disease within 300 weeks (five years and nine months) of your last exposure to the substance that caused the illness. Once you are diagnosed, you have 120 days to let your employer or former employer know about the illness. These time limitations also apply to deaths that result from occupational disease.

There are special rules for those with certain lung diseases. Workers who are diagnosed with these occupational illnesses must have worked with a silica, coal or asbestos hazard for at least two years in Pennsylvania during the 10 years prior to the diagnosis.

This rule means that many workers with occupational diseases are not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Industrial illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestosis don’t develop until 20 or more years after exposure to asbestos fibers. Cancers caused by other chemicals can also take time to develop.

If it has been more than 300 weeks since your last exposure to the hazard that caused your disease, you will be denied workers’ compensation. Your best option is to file a personal injury claim against your employer.

If you have questions about your right to compensation for an occupational cancer, please call Mednick, Mezyk & Kredo at 888-807-WORK. We’ll be happy to answer your questions.