What’s the Difference between Occupational Injury and Occupational Illness?

occupational injury vs occupational illness

With the rise of coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the dangers of occupational illness and occupational injury. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines occupational injury and occupational illness to be work-related “if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing condition.”

These cases include workplace injuries and illnesses that result in death, loss of consciousness, medical treatment beyond first aid, significant work-related issues diagnosed by a physician or licensed work professional, time away from work, or vocational transfer necessitated by the contracted injuries or illness.

What is the difference between Occupational Injury and Occupational Illness?

An occupational injury describes an injury that occurs on the job. An occupational illness, however, is related to an illness contracted on the job. The difference between occupational injury and occupational illness generally lies in how the ailment was contracted. Generally, occupational injuries occur instantly and are the result of a single traumatic event that causes physical harm, while occupational illnesses occur over time and are the result of long-term, continuous exposure to a harmful work environment.

Occupational Injuries

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), occupational injuries can “result from physical, biological, chemical, or psychosocial hazards such as noise, temperature, insect or animal bites, aerosols, blood-borne pathogens, hazardous chemicals, radiation, and occupational burnout.” Some of the most commonly contracted occupational injuries include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Slip and falls: Slip and falls often occur when an employee or a customer slips on a wet floor. They can also happen when someone trips over objects, equipment, or merchandise that is not properly stored.
  • Car accidents: Driving is dangerous, and people who spend a lot of time on the road for work are exposed to great risk every day. Getting into work-related car accident may mean you have both a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury case depending on the circumstances.
  • Electrocutions: Unfortunately, electrical accidents are often preventable. Electrocutions generally occur due to unsafely installed electrical equipment or unsafe workplace practices, though they may also occur due to the malfunctioning of a defective product. Employers should be diligent in ensuring they are utilizing every safety measure possible to prevent electrocutions. This includes but is not limited to using insulation, grounding, and electrical protective devices.
  • Getting Caught in Heavy Machinery: An employee can get stuck in or compressed by heavy machinery while on the job, causing them to become seriously or fatally injured. These injuries are more common in work environments such as factories, farms, and construction sites. The most effective way of preventing these kinds of accidents is to make sure that the person operating the machine has been properly trained on how to use it and is utilizing any safeguards put in place by the employer.
  • Falling objects: This occurs when boxes or other objects fall from great heights. Generally, this occurs when an item either falls off of a shelf or is dropped by another worker. Falling debris or objects is routinely a factor in construction site accidents.
  • Multi-story falls: Some industries require working from great heights. Unfortunately, with that comes great risk; falling can lead to serious injury or death. Falls from great heights are most common in construction zones and similar lines of work.
  • Fires and Explosions: Many laborers work with dangerous, highly flammable materials. These kinds of accidents can occur when workers are dealing with faulty gas lines, improperly stored hazardous materials, and/or working with an open flame. Depending on the type of accident, workers could be subjected to damage to their respiratory system, burn injuries, disfigurement, crush injuries, to name a few. It is imperative that employers put safety measures in place in order to keep everyone safe onsite.
  • Lifting injuries: Lifting a heavy object improperly can lead to chronic back injuries. Employers should ensure they educate workers on the safest way to lift in hopes of reducing risk.
  • Lacerations: Anything from heavy machinery to basic office supplies can cause a cut. Employers can do their part in mitigating this risk by providing safety equipment and training workers on how to correctly use it.

Occupational Illnesses

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, considers an illness to be work-related when “an exposure at work either caused or contributed to the onset of symptoms or aggravated existing symptoms to the point that they meet OSHA recordability criteria.” Some of the most commonly contracted occupational illnesses include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that occurs in the layer of tissue covering the majority of a person’s internal organs. That means that it can adversely affect the lungs, stomach, and other major areas of the body. The main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Workers who are exposed to asbestos are at a heightened risk for contracting mesothelioma, especially if they are in an environment where they are unknowingly ingesting it.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: When a worker’s job involves making repetitive motions in the hand and wrist, carpal tunnel can occur. Though common, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause permanent damage, leaving people with numbness, pain, and even the inability to grip items. There are a variety of industries linked to carpal tunnel, including assembly line workers and workers who use specialty tools such as jackhammers, drills, chainsaws, hammers, and chippers.
  • Chemical poisoning: One of the most common causes of occupational disease nationwide is chemical poisoning. According to the CDC, more than 13 million Americans are exposed to hazardous chemicals on the job. This exposure can occur via inhalation or via skin exposure. This can include exposure to pesticides, lead poisoning, or poisoning by other toxic substances.
  • Industrial Asthma: Cement layers, construction workers, and other laborers exposed to respiratory sensitizers are at risk of developing industrial asthma. Continuous exposure to these airborne irritants could adversely affect the lungs.
  • Noise-Induced Hearing loss: When frequently exposed to high noise levels on the job, workers can be at risk for hearing loss. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 20,000 people suffer workplace-related hearing loss a year, and for many of those workers, the loss is permanent. Safety experts recommend that employees not be exposed to 85+ decibel-level noise for more than 8 hours at a time.

This is by no means a complete list. Many injuries, illnesses, diseases, or conditions sustained as a result of one’s work-related duties or workplace environment can be considered an occupational injury or occupational illness, and may be covered by workers’ compensation depending on the circumstances involved. If you have been injured or contracted an illness on the job, it is important to speak to a workplace injury lawyer to determine your rights.

Compensation for Occupational Injury and Occupational Illness

In order to ensure your rights are protected, it is important to make sure you are performing your job as safely as possible. Make sure to always wear the required safety gear when on the job, and read any chemical labels to better understand the risk of items you’re working with. You should also follow safety instructions, and if you are unsure about a procedure or piece of equipment, check in with a supervisor.

Following safety protocol as best as you can help prevent workplace accidents, and may clear you of liability if an accident does occur.

If you or a loved one have been seriously or fatally injured on the job, it’s imperative that you retain a Work Accident Attorney. Our attorneys have a history of successfully representing people injured on the job, and we can help bring you the justice you deserve. Set up a free consultation to discuss your occupational injury or illness and learn more about your rights. Contact us online, or give us a call at 713-224-9000 to see how we can help.