What is an Occupational Injury/Illness of My Job?

person wearing a hazmat suit holding a mask

Improving Workplace Safety

Becoming injured at work is often unexpected and can have devastating consequences depending on the severity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over one-third of reported workplace injuries and illnesses require the employee to take time off to heal. Still, not many workers understand what may be considered an occupational injury or illness of their jobs, nor do they realize the occupational hazards present at all times.

To provide a better understanding, we have outlined what constitutes an occupational injury and illness so they are more easily defined and included a guide to help determine the occupational hazards across industries. Read on to learn more.

Defining Occupational Injuries and Illness

In the simplest definition, occupational injuries are any harm caused to the body directly resulting from the work environment. In Illinois, workplace injuries covered by Workers' Compensation include:

  • Aggravated pre-existing conditions
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Any other physical problem caused by work

On the other hand, occupational illnesses can be a bit harder to define and often require a lengthier investigation. Under the Illinois Workers' Occupational Diseases Act, they are defined as any disease arising out of/in the course of your employment or aggravated by your working conditions.

BLS outlines five distinct categories:

  • Skin diseases or disorders
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Poisoning
  • Hearing loss
  • Other, which can include effects of environmental factors like heat or cold (heatstroke, frostbite), decompression sickness, effects of radiation, anthrax, bloodborne pathogenic diseases, tumors, and more.

It's important to note that each industry has different risks associated, and therefore you may be more susceptible to various injuries or illnesses depending on your job. For example, construction workers are more likely to sustain an injury from a fall, while healthcare workers may be more likely to become ill from their job. Regardless, it's crucial to understand what constitutes an occupational hazard that may increase your risks of injury/illness.

How Do I Know If Something Is An Occupational Hazard?

To comply with standards set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must appropriately communicate the hazards present in their workplace, especially in those working with chemicals or other hazardous material. They are also required to post a completed Workers' Compensation notice at the worksite and share that information with employees, per Illinois state law.

OSHA outlines five categories of primary hazards in the workplace: chemical, biological, physical, ergonomic, and safety. They are defined as follows:

OSHA-Defined Occupational Hazards


Chemical hazards are substances that may cause a physical hazard like flammability or corrosion or a health hazard like skin irritation or illness. The chemical manufacturer has the authority to determine whether or not the specific chemical is classified as hazardous.

In industries where chemical hazards are present, employers are required to enforce strict hazard communication protocols to ensure the protection of employees.


Biological hazards are most commonly associated with industries where workers will have contact with animals, other people, or plants. Common examples of these include blood or other bodily fluids, insects, mold, and fungi, to name a few.


Physical hazards are those that can cause harm without requiring direct physical contact. This may include radiation, sunlight, and extreme temperatures.


Ergonomic hazards are the ones that may vary the most from industry to industry. This is often because they rely on your work habits and physical strain over time to define. Ergonomic hazards can be caused by repetitive motions, vibrations, incorrect posture, frequent bending and lifting, and more.


General safety hazards in the workplace are likely the most common in Workers' Compensation claims. They often include those mentioned above and are generally defined as unsafe conditions that increase the risk of injury or illness. These can be tripping hazards, working from heights, defective machinery, and electrical hazards.

Chicago Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Since 1996, the team at Leonard Law Group has proven to be a fervent advocate for injured workers across Illinois and has recovered more than $1,000,000,000 on behalf of our clients. Our attorneys are highly skilled and revered in the community and are committed to providing compassionate advocacy.

Our firm offers free second opinion case reviews when you call (312) 487-2513 or fill out this short form. Spanish consultations are available.

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