Occupational diseases: When work makes you sick

More and more employees suspect they have an occupational disease and therefore claim a statutory accident pension or other social benefit from the German statutory accident insurance, DGUV. This organization is responsible for recognizing or rejecting them, which is far more common.

80,132 cases on suspicion of an occupational disease were filed with the DGUV last year. That is 2.9 percent more than the year before and a new record. The DGUV completed almost 80,000 applications in the past year and only one in four claimants passed their application. Because not all illnesses that are job-related are considered occupational diseases. What is a recognized occupational disease is in the Occupational Diseases Ordinance.

It has existed for almost 100 years, currently comprises 80 diseases and the number is increasing because new clinical pictures are constantly being recorded. A new disease just comes on the listif the legislature supplements them with a change in the law. This happens after in-depth medical consultations, in which it was established that a certain group of people is exposed to a particular risk of suffering such an illness through their professional activity.

The risk of this group must be far higher than that of the general public. Not every illness therefore meets the legal requirements to be recognized as an occupational disease. Anyone who sits in front of the screen for hours and thus gets back problems has just as little an occupational disease as someone who has cardiovascular or psychological problems due to stress. Because such complaints can affect anyone, regardless of their activity, so they are not job-specific.

Some occupational activities involve specific health risks for employees. This could be flour dust in the bakery, frequent kneeling by tilers or hairdressers handling chemicals in hair dyes. Employees in such occupations are exposed to a much higher risk than other employees. According to the list, typical occupational diseases are caused by chemical effects, e.g. by harmful substances, by mechanical effects, e.g. pressure damage to the nerves or skin cancer from soot.

This is how detailed occupational diseases are listed in the overview. According to information from the Federal Statistical Office, roofers, bricklayers and nurses in particular are giving up their jobs prematurely for health reasons. According to the accident insurer, the most common recognized occupational diseases are skin diseases.

The employer is actually liable for damage to the health of its employees. But this is done by the statutory accident insurance and in return the employers finance the statutory accident insurance. Their carriers are the employers’ liability insurance associations and accident insurance funds. All employees are insured in the statutory accident insurance, regardless of the amount of their income, from trainees to managing directors, but not self-employed. The main task of the statutory accident insurance is to prevent occupational diseases.

The employers’ liability insurance associations and accident insurance companies do this by advising employers. However, if occupational diseases do occur, the DGUV takes the measures to prevent the disease from worsening and to support healing. In the case of skin diseases, these include, for example, skin protection seminars or inpatient treatment. The aim of all measures is always to maintain people’s ability to work. That is what every single case is about.

Recognition as an occupational disease is important because the insured person then receives benefits that the health insurance company does not offer. Because the statutory accident insurance enables measures that go far beyond those of health insurance. The spectrum ranges from assuming the costs of medical treatment, therapies and rehabilitation.

The wages are replaced, retraining is paid, there are disability pensions and in the event of the death of the insured, the relatives receive a survivor’s pension. These social achievements are well worth the time and effort to be recognized. But it’s not a walk.

Doctors and employers are obliged to report any suspicion of an occupational disease to the accident insurance institution. The health insurance companies are also required to provide information. And of course, those affected can also report their illnesses to their trade association or accident insurance company themselves. The statutory accident insurance providers then determine ex officio and check whether an occupational disease is present.

In order to determine whether there is a connection between the activity and the damage, the work history of the insured person is determined. It is checked what loads and influences he was exposed to during his professional life. For this purpose, questionnaires are sent to his former and current employers or personal surveys are carried out and, if necessary, investigations are carried out at the workplace. If a hazard could be determined there, it will be clarified whether this triggered the disease. An expert does that. The insurance company then decides whether there is an occupational disease or not.

If an illness is not recognized as an occupational disease, the necessary medical services are provided by the health insurance. The accident insurance company will inform the health insurance company about the rejection.


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