Our professions are a significant part of our lives. It is how we put food on the table and ensure that the rainy-day pot stays full. Since a major chunk of our day is spent at work, our working space and its environment have a significant impact on our physical health.
Occupations like construction, engineering, mining, farming, or even metalworking require individuals to spend time around radioactive fumes, aggressive dust particles, and toxic pollutants.
Long-term, exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, inhalation of poor-quality air, and lack of sanitation can have serious health consequences. These conditions that arise from workplace exposure to toxic physical, chemical, or biological agents are called occupational illnesses.
These illnesses develop gradually and over time as toxicity accumulates within the body and causes organs to function abnormally.
Since these disorders can be attributed to workplace ambiance and conditions, employees suffering may demand compensation under the legislation as per the existing Occupational Health and Safety Act.
According to this law, organizations are required to observe all preventive measures to ensure the protection and safety of their workers. Failure to do so makes them liable for a fine that must be paid to the worker or their family, especially if the ratio of illnesses is significantly higher at the workplace than in the general population.
The government has enforced these laws to assist workers who contract injuries, diseases, or disorders during in course of their employment. Through this financial support can help them seek medical help, handling and understanding the law is by no means an easy task.
Many organizations like the Simmons Hanly Conroy Law Firm now assist employees in comprehending the requirements and filing formal complaints. This firm intends to represent victims and their families in courts, provide guidance and support them through this stressful journey.
For individuals working in a risky environment, knowledge and education is key to being on top of their health. For your information we’ve compiled a list of common occupational illnesses, their symptoms, and causes so that you know exactly what to look out for:
It is a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer that affects the mesothelial cells within the lining of various bodily organs like the lungs, heart, abdomen, and even the brain. Mesothelioma causes damage on a molecular level by disrupting the DNA of healthy cells and causing them to function out of control.
Causes: Research is still ongoing about the possible causes of mesothelioma, but scientists believe it to be a combination of both hereditary and environmental factors. Many studies have linked this deadly condition to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is used in the development of brake linings, shingles, and insulating protective coverings. Its high tensile strength doesn’t corrode and is resistant to both heat and electricity. These are the properties that make it both useful and deadly.
While the element isn’t dangerous in its natural state, when broken down it leads to the development of minuscule fibers that can be easily inhaled. Since these fibers don’t degrade, they accumulate within the lining of our organs causing irritation and eventually leading to mesothelioma.
Symptoms: At its initial stages the symptoms are barely noticeable and resemble that of the common cold. Patients experience a dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. With the spread of the cancer, patients struggle with the loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper arm and shoulders, abdominal bloating, swollen limbs, and fever coupled with night sweats.
Dermatitis is perhaps the most common of all occupational illnesses and makes up nearly 15-20% of all complaints reported. It is the development of a red, itchy rash on various parts of the body. Though the rash isn’t contagious, it can be very uncomfortable and serve as an underlying cause behind numerous chronic skin disorders.
Moreover, repeated scratching of the wound can cause pus buildup which is a good place for bacteria or fungi to grow.
Causes: This condition usually occurs when the skin encounters toxins or pollutants that can either cause irritation to a point of flare-up or trigger an allergic reaction.
- Allergens: Common allergens include nickel, latex gloves, radioactive fumes from machinery, acid, airborne chemicals like herbicide and pesticides, formaldehyde, and pollen.
In response to these elements, the body produces inflammatory substances causing the region of the skin exposed to burn, become red, itchy, and swollen.
- Irritants: Even mild irritants can sensitize the skin over time damaging the outer layer and exposing the tissue underneath. They may not cause any adverse reaction initially, but long-term exposure can lead to skin irritation. Common examples include kerosene, scented soap, detergents, bleach, drain cleaners, rubbing alcohol, and airborne substances like wood and sawdust.
Symptoms: Signs become visible soon after exposure. The area of the skin affected is likely to develop a red rash or blisters oozing with pus. The region burns and becomes scaly or dry, swollen, itchy, and tender.
You must immediately consult a doctor if the rash doesn’t go away within a week or is so uncomfortable that it’s hindering your daily tasks.
Farmers, waiters, social workers, bus drivers, construction and high-way workers, firefighters, nurses, and other members of the healthcare force are all individuals who spend most of the day on their feet running one errand after the other.
Since their jobs are physically demanding and strenuous, they’re are at an extremely high risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. These are conditions that impair body movement due to excessive pressure and stress on muscles tendons, bones, and associated connective tissues.
When a certain part of the musculoskeletal system is repeatedly burdened with more work than it can handle, it eventually loses its functional integrity. Some common examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain, tendonitis, degenerative disc disease, neuritis, and so on.
Causes: Musculoskeletal disorders are common amongst the locomotor sector of individuals and professions that require copious hours of manual labor. These are repetitive motion injuries that develop gradually, weakening the muscles and causing bones to become brittle over time.
The fatigue from these disorders outruns the body’s recovery system creating a permanent Musculoskeletal imbalance.
- High task repetition – Constantly performing a strenuous motion and withholding a position
- Awkward posture – Doing tasks for long periods in awkward postures and bent positions can exert excess force on bones and push joints out of their range of motion.
- Forced Exertions – Burdening the body and muscles with more than what they can handle by carrying heavy loads, lifting weights, and working without breaks.
Symptoms: Signs differ from person to person and on the area of the Musculoskeletal system affected.
Symptoms common to most disorders include repeated fractures, chronic fatigue, aching and stiffness, burning sensation and twitching within the muscles, difficulty falling asleep, and performing long-range motions.
These are illnesses caused by workplace exposure to hazardous infectious agents like bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. Farmers, lab-workers, scientific researchers, animal breeders, wildlife biologists, veterinaries are all workers who come in direct contact with living organisms.
Since their occupation requires them to tackle domesticated and wild animals, they are at a much higher risk of developing infectious diseases. Hepatitis B, cholera, malaria, dengue fever, pneumonia
Causes: Infectious diseases are caused when a worker encounters an infection-causing biological agent. Poor sanitary conditions and lack of hygiene are the most common causes why these diseases spread. An infection can develop following contact with
- An infected person, animals, and surfaces
- Bites or scratches from rodents and other animals
- Bodily secretions like blood and saliva
- Excretory material like feces and urine
- Soil or water samples taken from wild places and endemic areas
- Handling unsterilized, contaminated needles or surgical equipment
- Consumption of unhygienic food or drinking unfiltered water
- Inhaling dust from bird roots, chicken coops, and bad-inhabited caves.
Symptoms: The symptoms are largely dependent on the type of infection and the causative agent behind it. However general signs that are common to most infectious diseases include fever, nausea, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, chills, cough, aching, or stiff muscles and joints.
Seek immediate medical care if you’re having trouble breathing, severe headache, high fever that isn’t coming down, or experiencing vision problems. The disease must be dealt with at the earliest because if left unattended it can progress towards health conditions that are more severe and deadly.
Occupational illnesses are no joke and if symptoms aren’t detected early on, can lead to the development of life-threatening disorders.
Don’t step into any profession blindly. Before you take up a job educate yourself regarding the potential risks involved. Know what safety measures to take, which areas to avoid, and the signs that could indicate declining health.
A little awareness can go a long way and will protect both you and your loved ones.