The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that many cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could have root causes in the workplace. COPD is a disease often associated with smoking, but according to the CDC, nearly 24% of the population suffering from COPD has never smoked.
That fact is only one of the red flags that indicated workplace exposure as a cause of COPD. The report points to various risks and exposures across a wide range of fields.
What caused the high rate of COPD?
Exposure to hazardous substances is a common cause of workplace injuries. However, those harmful substances usually include chemicals in labs or solvents in manufacturing plants. These substances can result in lung diseases, but most often lead to chemical burns or severe skin conditions if not handled properly.
Most employers and employees are also aware of the risks involved when dealing with chemicals. This new study revealed unexpected causes of COPD when workers were exposed to substances including:
- Inorganic and organic dust
- Paper dust
- Photocopier fumes
- Specific inks, glues and paints
Many of these substances already have connections to lung conditions like COPD, but not to this high of a rate.
The impact on Maryland workers
The substances listed are widespread in many industries, including manufacturing, sciences, construction and even office work. Naturally, the risk factors vary depending on the industry. For example, construction workers have a higher risk of exposure than office workers.
However, many of Maryland's top industries still overlap with those listed in the CDC's report for the highest risks of COPD. A large percentage of Maryland citizens work in these fields and have for years.
This study might give individuals suffering from COPD the ability to pinpoint the reason for their illness if the cause was unknown before. It also allows current employees to increase their awareness of the risks they face.
A call for change and workers' compensation
The CDC called for a change to reduce the risks of COPD in the workplace. They hope to monitor the use of the listed substances to decrease the chance of illnesses nationwide. Reforms like this are generally long-term endeavors.
The report could have a significant immediate impact as well. This evidence--combined with the additional research resulting from it--could provide current and retired employees of these fields with the grounds to file for workers' compensation benefits.
Unfortunately, in Maryland, although the law provides coverage for occupational diseases, it is often difficult to prove that the condition, such as COPD, is causally related to the work environment. If you are a firefighter, police officer or correctional officer, the law is more favorable, but all injured workers require a physician opine that a relationship exists and that the Statute of Limitations has not expired. Therefore, it is critical that you speak with an experienced attorney should you believe or have reason to believe your condition is related to your occupation.