November has officially been declared the month to recognize Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD.) Although COPD has certainly received more press in recent years than ever before, it is still highly misunderstood despite affecting more than 16 million people, according to The American Lung Association. For instance, some people still believe that COPD only happens to smokers. While smoking increases risk factors associated with developing COPD, non-smokers, including employees working in certain occupations, can also be diagnosed with COPD. Employees who develop COPD or have pre-existing COPD symptoms exacerbated by certain occupational hazards may question whether they can receive Workers’ Compensation benefits since it is an occupational disease.
A Brief Overview of COPD
As its name implies, COPD affects the respiratory system; this includes the lungs and esophagus. Those diagnosed with COPD can experience difficulty breathing in a variety of ways; some may have fits of wheezing or coughing, while others may feel a tight sensation in the chest, accompanied by a sense of not being able to fully inflate the lungs. Sometimes, patients with COPD wind up having too much moisture in their lungs.
Over time, COPD typically worsens, although it can plateau for years. With aggressive treatment under the care of a trusted physician, patients with COPD can learn to live with the disease. However, it can be debilitating for many people and completely change the way they live. COPD can make it difficult to exercise and even complete certain tasks associated with daily activities, such as walking through the grocery store, picking up an infant, or walking up and down stairs at home.
What Causes COPD?
Many factors contribute to the development of COPD, including smoking cigarettes on a regular basis. Additional causes include inhaling fumes, which might occur in some industrial and plant settings. Some people who have never smoked ended up contracting COPD after working in polluted manufacturing environments or at industrial sites that contained airborne pollutants.
Can COPD Lead to Other Conditions?
COPD patients are more susceptible to developing other conditions and complications, which can include anything from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer to depression. For this reason, COPD needs to be taken seriously. Anyone who experiences the warning symptoms of COPD should see a doctor for a full check-up. COPD must be diagnosed by a physician, as it can mimic other types of chronic and acute diseases, such as bronchitis. After diagnosis, patients can work with their doctors to determine how best to address symptoms and reduce the likelihood of mild, moderate, or severe respiratory attacks.
Because COPD can be caused by airborne irritants, including chemical fumes and fine dust, some workers may be at a greater risk of developing COPD. For example, people working around breathable toxins, smoke, flour, or dust in confined spaces without proper ventilation may experience respiratory discomfort. Over time, the discomfort could become an everyday occurrence, leading them to visit a doctor. If they are diagnosed with COPD, they may have reason to believe that their COPD was caused directly by their occupation. Workers who handle gas, textiles, rubbers, construction materials, stonework, metals, and plastics are at a higher risk of contracting COPD.
What can People with Workplace COPD Do?
Individuals who develop COPD because of their work conditions have a right to file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Workers’ Compensation exists to help workers cover the cost of medical treatment for injuries or illnesses directly experienced because of the job itself. Therefore, an employee whose COPD is work-related should be able to make a claim to receive a certain percentage of lost wages to treat COPD through methods such as therapy, medication, and supplemental oxygen.
Can Workers’ Compensation Insurance Providers Deny a COPD Claim?
Workers’ Compensation insurance providers have the right to deny any claims that come to them. An insurance company will allege that the COPD did not occur because of the workplace environment, but because of something else, such as the worker’s smoking. Employees who receive a claim denial have the right to appeal, although they have the burden to prove that their COPD was caused by an occupational hazard.
Many workers choose to seek help with their appeal from a Workers’ Compensation lawyer. Lawyers can help individuals put together appeals that contain evidence needed to prove that the COPD diagnosis was linked to the victim’s occupation and not something else. Although a worker with COPD can contact a Workers’ Compensation lawyer any time, the best time would be before an official claim is made. A lawyer can help the client put together a strong case from the beginning.
How can Workers Avoid Developing COPD on the Job?
Employees worried about contracting COPD on the job should take measures to protect themselves. This can include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the chances of dust, toxic chemicals, fumes, and powders from getting into their airways and lungs. Some team members who have pre-existing respiratory issues, such as asthma, or who have had bouts of lung cancer, may want to ask for a transfer to a different position if they are fearful of developing COPD.
Mount Laurel Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC Assist Workers Who Develop COPD
If you developed COPD due to occupational exposure, contact the Mount Laurel Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Kotlar, Hernandez & Cohen, LLC. For a free consultation, call 856-751-7676 or contact us online. Located in Mount Laurel, Trenton, Cherry Hill, and Vineland, New Jersey, as well as Trevose, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.