Occupational disease: Work-related asthma affects many employees

Many workers in Pennsylvania contract work-related asthma that could leave them disabled and unable to work, or necessitates a change in employment to get away from the substances that are to blame. This is an occupational disease that can exacerbate the conditions of workers who have existing asthmatic conditions, or it can develop in a perfectly healthy employee. Employees in any industry that exposes them to irritants or allergens can fall victim to occupational asthma.

Safety authorities have identified over 250 substances that could cause shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing. Workers in many industries -- from hospitals to bakeries -- can be affected by substances that include various chemicals that are used in manufacturing. Also cleaning products, paints, grain, wood dust, flour, mold, latex gloves, animals, plants and insects.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration expects employers to ensure that work environments are free from known hazards. They must also establish programs that will prevent work-related asthma by eliminating or reducing irritants and allergens that could cause exposure. Providing employees with respiratory protective equipment could limit occurrences.

The workers' compensation insurance program of Pennsylvania offers employees coverage of medical expenses for treatment of work-related asthma or another occupational disease. This applies to both new-onset or work-aggravated conditions. If the illness prevented an employee from going to work, the benefits might include a wage-replacement package, which is typically based on the employee's basic weekly wage. Resources are available to assist with the complicated legal and administrative steps of the claims process in pursuit of maximum compensation.

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