Workers’ Compensation

A person filling in a 'work injury claim form'

Workers’ Compensation Claims for Melanoma and Skin Cancer

We know that prolonged and excessive exposure to ultra violet (UV) radiation can lead to the development of serious skin diseases, including melanoma.

If a person is sufficiently exposed to UV radiation via their work activities and it’s believed to be the likely cause of subsequent melanoma, that person and/or their family may be entitled to significant benefits under workers’ compensation legislation.

A claim for benefits can often be made, even if the diagnosis of the disease is made many years after a person ceased work but only in certain circumstances.

As an example, in Queensland, a person who is diagnosed with skin cancer/melanoma or some other work-related disease which appears years after a person has ceased work, can make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits if the claim is made within six months of them receiving advice as to the diagnosis of the disease.

After making that initial application, it would then be necessary to prove that the exposure to UV radiation at work had been a significant contributing factor to the suffering of the skin disease.

The connection between the UV exposure in the workplace and the suffering of the disease would be established by an analysis of the worker’s work history and the exposure to UV radiation through that work, followed by seeking the advice of a dermatologist or other relevant medical specialist to determine – after considering the work history, other exposures, and the information regarding the development of the disease – the likely connection between the suffering of melanoma and work.

If the claim for workers’ compensation benefits is made within the required time, and the likely connection between the person’s work and the development of the disease established, there would be the prospect of receiving significant statutory benefits for medical expenses, loss of earnings and, potentially, permanent impairment.

Workers’ compensation claims for delayed onset diseases are, regrettably, often technically difficult claims.  It would be wise for a person who is diagnosed with melanoma, or some other serious skin disease which is likely caused by exposure to UV radiation and light (such as the sun, welding flash, etc.) at work, to seek legal advice as soon as possible regarding their potential entitlement to benefits.

Delay in making the claim can be critical to what would otherwise be a legitimate claim for benefits, as can be seen in a 2014 decision of the Industrial Court of Queensland.  In that case, Mr. Armstrong had a history of work in the sun, followed by a long history of suffering skin problems, including the development of basal cell carcinomas and other malignant lesions.  He was subsequently diagnosed with a malignant skin cancer which would prove fatal.

Mr. Armstrong was unsuccessful in his seeking of workers’ compensation benefits because the court found that even though the repeated diagnosis of these skin cancers were related to his exposure to the sun, the critical date within which the application for benefits should have been made was at that time of the original diagnosis, not when he was later diagnosed with a terminal diagnosis.

The sad lesson to be learnt from Mr. Armstrong’s case is that the application (in that case, to WorkCover Queensland) should have been made sooner, rather than later.

Remember: Know your legal rights and act as early as possible.

Written by Mark O’Connor, Director and Solicitor, Bennett and Philp Lawyers—one of MPA’s Corporate Partners.  March 2018