Understanding the Severity of Occupational Illnesses

Understanding the Severity of Occupational Illnesses House Painter

Understanding the Severity of Occupational Illnesses | Workplace events or exposures that cause or worsen a preexisting condition are considered occupational illnesses. Therefore, when an occupational disorder is suspected, a directed history must be taken with particular attention to establishing a relationship between symptoms and exposure.

In more industrialized countries, occupational asthma is the most common lung disease, characterized by classic asthma symptoms (coughing, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, trouble exhaling). 

In addition, smoking and exposure to nonspecific vapors, gases, dust, fumes, and smoke are associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the workplace. 

The most common dermal exposure is occupational contact dermatitis. Irritators, sensitizers, physical agents, mechanical trauma, and biological agents can cause it. Similarly, many repetitive injuries are common among workers, including carpal tunnel syndrome and medial or lateral epicondylitis.

Occupational disorders are typically treated the same way as other disorders. In addition to lost wages, occupational injuries can negatively affect one’s quality of life.

Occupational Illnesses & Worker Compensation

An occupational disorder is caused by or worsened by an event or exposure occurring at work. Approximately 69% of occupational illnesses and injuries go unreported. Though the US labor law is relatively straightforward, most workers don’t understand them. 

The law mentions that if workers or their families suffer from occupational-related illnesses, the industry must bear the expenses. Because of this reason, there are agencies and dedicated lawyers that deal with occupational disorders compensation cases, such as an asbestos lawyer that explicitly handles cases of workers suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. 

The workers’ compensation law is a no-fault law, which means that they have to compensate for any loss of a worker (death, ill-health) without regard to fault. In most countries, compensatory schemes are in place to compensate workers injured in accidents or who fell ill due to their employment. However, these policies and funding differ widely across countries. 

A decision on which diseases should be reimbursed is possible by identifying an exposure-effect relationship in a particular case (“individual proof”) or from a list of occupational diseases where scientific evidence of the exposure-effect relationship in a specific circumstance allows the “benefit of presumption”. Various schemes combine these principles.

For instance, during 2013, the BLS reported about 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the US. However, an estimated $67 billion was spent on treating nonfatal occupational diseases in the United States in 2007.

Most Common Occupational Illnesses

Some of the most common occupation-related medical disorders are:

Inhalant Asthma

The most prevalent occupational lung disease in industrialized countries is occupational asthma, accounting for approximately 15% of all new asthma cases among adults. According to a 2012 survey of more than 200,000 patients in 22 states, 1.9 million new cases of occupational asthma were reported. 

In the United States, occupational asthma causes approximately 38,000 deaths annually and 1.6 million disability-adjusted life years. There are over 250 triggers for occupational asthma.

Some common triggers are:

  • Chlorine
  • Smoke
  • High-level-irritant dust
  • Bioaerosols, etc.

Ninety percent of cases (90%) are caused by sensitizers (substances that provoke an immune response), and ten percent (or less) are caused by irritants (substances that directly damage and inflame cells without triggering an immune response).

More common are high-molecular-weight sensitizers, which contain proteins and glycopeptides that induce an immunoglobulin E response. Conversely, low-molecular-weight sensitizers tend to act via poorly understood pathophysiological pathways.

COPD Due To Occupational Exposure

Occupational exposures account for about 15% of the cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the world’s fourth leading cause of death. 

Additionally, almost 19% of all COPD cases were associated with multiple occupational exposures, according to an analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data (31% of never smokers).

Despite the lack of an official definition for occupational COPD, substantial evidence points to nonsmoking exposure as the most likely cause. A broad range of nonspecific vapors, gases, specks of dust, and fumes are implicated in occupational COPD, with dust showing the most consistency. 

The strongest evidence comes from workers who have been exposed to coal dust, silica, cotton dust, or cadmium fumes. There is a synergistic effect of cigarette smoke exposure in these workers, which means their risk goes up more than if they were exposed to it separately.

The findings from a recent case-control study indicate that the risk of occupational COPD increases with age, the number of cigarettes smoked, and exposure duration.

Work-Related Dermatitis

The second most common occupational disorder is skin exposure, which occurs at a rate of 2.3 injuries per 10,000 workers. Chemicals, such as pesticides, are potentially absorbed through the skin by more than 13 million US workers each year. 

In Europe, ten countries have recently reported a decline in occupational dermatitis cases. Due to its high prevalence, occupational contact dermatitis accounts for 90% to 95% of occupational skin disorders.

MSD. (Occupational Musculoskeletal Disorders)

Musculoskeletal disorders occur due to sudden exertion or prolonged exposure to factors such as repetitive movement, force, vibration, or awkward positions that cause or aggravate injuries to muscles, tendons, joints, cartilage, and nerves. 

In addition to stress fractures, nonspecific strains, sprains, muscles tears, back pain, and hernias, there are also many upper-limb disorders. Manufacturing and service industries are responsible for about half of the occupational musculoskeletal disorders. 

Data from 2011 indicates that musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 33% of occupational injuries and illnesses. Due to different definitions used in studies, it’s hard to estimate the true prevalence of occupational musculoskeletal disorders. 

Hand activity, forceful exertion, awkward positions, and hand-transmitted vibration all contribute to risk.

The most common types of MSD prevalent in workers are:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Epicondylitis

The Verdict

Occupational health risks and diseases have increased due to work and working conditions changes. New technologies also pose unknown risks. Without proper assessment and management, these risks could prove to be hazardous. As a result, there could be severe health consequences. 

Therefore, occupational health surveillance and risk management are crucial for collecting empirical and research data. So, this new knowledge can be used in preventing occupational diseases. 

Additionally, it is crucial for workers working in exposed environments to get timely check-ups so any anomaly can be diagnosed and treated in time.