Would You Qualify For A Workers' Compensation Claim?
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) hosted its second Occupational Asthma and Allergy International Conference in November. Why a separate conference dealing with only occupation-induced illness? Because there are approximately 250 workplace-related agents that have been shown to cause allergies and asthma. Some of the more common items include such things as detergents, ammonia, chlorine, isocyanates, and latex.
The workplace can truly be hazardous to one’s health. According to data from the Bureau of Labor, 5.7 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private-industry workers in 1999. This translates to 6.3 cases per 100 full-time workers. Of these reported cases, approximately 2.7 million employees required time off work or restricted duty. That’s a lot of personal and corporate financial loss, not to mention the emotional toll a work-related illness or injury takes on an employee and his or her family.
To specifically address latex allergy, in 1999, it was estimated that over 950,000 healthcare workers may become sensitized to latex over the course of their careers. Add to that number the police, firefighters, food service workers, auto mechanics, painters, beauticians, maintenance personnel, and anthrax-avoiding postal workers who may wear natural rubber latex gloves regularly, and the numbers become astronomically larger.
If you have had a run-in with latex allergy or another work-related illness, you’ve probably gotten to know your Workers’ Compensation representative. Fortunately, Worker’s Compensation seems to be taking latex allergy seriously, even though it is no doubt costing them money. A review of case law in 1999 found that 13 states had reported cases of Workers’ Compensation decisions related to latex allergy: Illinois, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. There were 30 cases of Type I hypersensitivity reported, and 21 of these were found to be compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Acts of the various states. Between 1987 and 1999, there was an increasing trend of employees seeking benefits because of latex allergy.
However, if you choose to pursue a Workers’ Compensation claim, you must be able to prove the connection between your illness and your work environment. Recently, a nursing assistant in Pennsylvania had her claim dismissed because she and her witnesses failed to prove the connection. The claimant presented the Alert issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regarding latex allergy, but the court concluded that the NIOSH Alert did not establish statistical or epidemiological differences to support the claimant’s conclusion of occupation-related latex allergy. Also, the claimant’s allergist did not testify that there was an increased incidence of latex allergy in healthcare employees, compared to the general public. Nor did the allergist specify a causal relationship between her patient’s allergy and her job. In other words, the court felt that it could not be proven that the exposure at work was really what caused this woman’s allergy.