Employees and pensions

Occupational diseases: What should you do if your employees are affected?

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Nowadays, more and more employees from various sectors are suffering from occupational diseases. We show you how you can prevent this in your company and what you can do if your employees are affected.

Employees make the company – which is why health is also a top priority in the world of work. Take comprehensive precautions and provide your employees with a safe working environment to promote productivity and prevent occupational diseases.

Which illnesses fall under the term occupational disease?

Not all pain or illnesses that arise in direct connection with an occupation are considered an occupational disease. Which diseases can be included on the list of occupational diseases in Switzerland is defined in the Accident Insurance Act (UVG). According to this law, an illness must have been caused by the effects of certain work processes or harmful substances – and more than 50% of responsibility for the onset of the illness must be attributable to these factors. Illnesses that are not on the list of occupational diseases can only be recognized as occupational diseases if at least 75% of responsibility for the emergence of these illnesses can be assigned to the occupational activity.

As occupational diseases occur in every industry and in every profession, the list of occupational diseases is very comprehensive. However, the following occur especially often:

  • Ear disorders
  • Skin and subcutaneous diseases
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Disorders related to the musculoskeletal system

Note: These illnesses are only considered occupational diseases if they occur as a direct result of occupational activity. In the case of respiratory diseases, for example, this may be the case when working with flour dust in a bakery or in the case of skin diseases when working with chemical substances in a hairdressing salon. 

What causes occupational diseases?

Anyone who is exposed to harmful substances at work for many years, for example by handling building materials or aggressive cleaning agents, has a higher risk of developing an occupational disease. The substances that are considered harmful are set out in an extensive list in the Accident Insurance Ordinance (Appendix 1 UVV, in German). 

Special caution with fine particle dust

Respiratory diseases are often caused by fine particle dust. A large amount of fine particle dust is produced during a wide variety of work, especially in manual trades. One of the most common occupational diseases caused by fine particle dust is pneumoconiosis. This exists in various forms and depends on the type of fine particles that are inhaled. For example, aluminosis is an occupational disease where the person has come into contact with aluminum.

Incidentally: Occupations in which there is high exposure to particulate matter are generally insured with SUVA.

However, occupational diseases can also be caused by other factors, such as UV radiation or noise. Heavy physical strain also plays a major role. For this reason, it is immensely important to protect yourself and your employees and to take suitable preventive measures in your company.

How to prevent occupational diseases at your company

There are different tasks and work processes in every occupational field. You should therefore think about how you can offer your employees the best protection in all areas. In some cases, protective measures such as safety shoes or goggles are required by law. Health prevention measures at your company could look like this, for example:

  • Working with harmful substances: Provide your employees with effective protective equipment (e.g. safety goggles, hair net, gloves, clothing, mask). When working with chemical substances, also observe the legal limits at the workplace (in German).
  • Working outdoors: Ensure a high level of sun protection by providing long, breathable clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Encourage your employees not to spend too long in the sun and to drink plenty of fluids. Caution is particularly important here, as otherwise actinic keratosis can quickly develop. This is a form of malignant skin cancer. Here too, however, it is only recognized as an occupational disease if it was directly caused by the occupational activity.
  • Working on a PC: Use appropriate desks, chairs, and monitors to ensure ergonomics at the workplace and encourage your employees to take frequent short breaks from sedentary work.
  • Working in transportation: Provide appropriate clothing and comfortable, safe footwear. You should also encourage your employees to exercise regularly here. Furthermore, long journeys require sufficient sleep and a high level of concentration.
  • Heavy physical labor: Offer regular workshops in which your employees learn how to lift and move heavy objects as safely as possible. Hang up the corresponding information sheets at the workplace.

These are just a few examples of how you can protect yourself and your employees against occupational diseases. Think about which prevention measures could still be relevant at your company and remind yourself of these regularly. Also inform your employees about all occupational risks, as you also benefit from their health. Healthy employees are demonstrably more productive and help you and your company to be successful.

What should you do if an employee is suffering from an occupational disease?

It’s not always easy to recognize an occupational disease. Therefore, pay attention to changes in your employees and approach them openly.

If an employee is unable to work due to an occupational disease, they must consult a doctor and provide you with a medical certificate. This officially confirms the illness and the inability to work and is important for protection against dismissal and continued payment of wages.

If an occupational disease is actually present, you as the employer are obligated to notify the accident insurance immediately. This is your point of contact for both occupational diseases and accidents at work.

What benefits are available if an illness is recognized as an occupational disease?

According to the Accident Insurance Act (UVG), an occupational disease in Switzerland is treated in the same way as an occupational accident. This means that benefits are also paid by the accident insurance provider. As an employer, you are legally obligated to insure your employees against occupational diseases and accidents. 

If an occupational disease is actually attributable to harmful substances or certain activities, Suva can determine that a person is unfit for work. In this case, a change of occupation is unavoidable. In order to protect occupationally ill persons against financial losses, accident insurance generally covers certain transitional benefits for retraining or reorientation in addition to other social insurance. 

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Reintegration after an occupational disease

It can also be difficult for you as an entrepreneur if employees are unable to work due to an occupational disease. After all, their expertise plays an important role in your company. For this reason, the focus should be on job retention and structured support and reintegration, where possible. For this, there are the following options: 

  • If a full return to work is possible, targeted support can be provided for reintegration. However, the prerequisite is that the person affected can return to work at the desired workload in the medium term.
  • If a return to work is only possible to a limited extent, provide your employee with the necessary tools to facilitate the work process. Alternatively, you can offer reorientation with appropriate retraining or further training within the company. 
  • In some cases, it is not possible for the employee to return to work after an occupational disease: The employee may suffer from health issues that do not allow them to continue performing their original job. In such cases, termination of the employment relationship is often unavoidable. However, you can still support the person concerned by helping them to find a job.

AXA’s Care and Case Management offers professional support to ensure that the reintegration process runs smoothly. 

Can employees be dismissed as a result of an accident at work or an occupational disease?

The same conditions apply to occupational diseases as to non-occupational diseases: Employees enjoy protection against termination

There are certain blocking periods after the end of the probationary period:

  • 30 days in the first year of employment
  • 90 days in the second to fifth year of employment
  • 180 days from the sixth year of employment

After these periods have expired or after employees have returned to work, the principle of freedom of termination applies. This means that both employers and employees can terminate the employment relationship.

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