Occupational lung diseases are conditions of the respiratory system that have occupational exposure as a risk factor for developing the disease.

These diseases may be acute, sub-acute or chronic, and either malignant, non-malignant or infectious in nature.

Occupational lung diseases include:

  • Aluminosis – pneumoconiosis caused by the presence of dust containing aluminium in the lung tissue.
  • Asbestosis, asbestosis induced carcinoma, mesothelioma – diseases caused by inhalation of asbestos.
  • Asthma – a condition in which a person's airways become inflamed, narrow and swell and produce extra mucus, which makes it difficult to breathe.
  • Berylliosis (chronic beryllium disease) – pneumoconiosis caused by inhalation of dusts (or vapours) containing beryllium.
  • Byssinosis – a respiratory disease caused by inhalation of cotton dust.
  • Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) – pneumoconiosis caused by exposure to respirable coal dust.
  • Hard metal pneumoconiosis (hard metal lung disease or HMLD) – fibrotic pneumoconiosis caused by respirable dusts of hard metals such as tungsten, tungsten carbide and cobalt.
  • Silicosis – fibrotic lung disease caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica, may lead to lung cancer.
  • Talcosis – pneumoconiosis caused by exposure to respirable talc dust.

Occupational lung diseases work plan

Occupational lung diseases, including silicosis, are a priority condition under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022.

Our comprehensive occupational lung diseases work plan will be implemented throughout 2019 and 2020 and aims to:

  • raise awareness of the duties and control measures for eliminating and minimising airborne contaminants that cause occupational lung disease at the workplace, and
  • inform the development of effective national policy.

Our work plan is based on identified issues and includes key initiatives that supplement the compliance and education activities being undertaken in the states and territories.

Issue Key initiative Objective
The recent increase in diagnoses of silicosis in workers from the engineered stone industry has highlighted a lack of awareness about working safely with silica and silica-containing products.

We have developed a national guide for Working with silica and silica-containing products. The guide incorporates specific information about working with engineered stone products.

The guide is translated in six languages to assist our culturally and linguistically diverse community.

To improve the health and safety of workers by increasing awareness of WHS duties and safe work practices to reduce exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Duty holders, particularly in small to medium enterprise, are often unaware of their WHS duties and the importance of protecting their workers from dusts that can cause occupational lung diseases. We will develop and support national education and awareness activities, with a focus on micro and small to medium enterprises, to raise awareness of occupational lung disease and how it can be prevented. To improve compliance with the WHS laws and improve the health and safety of workers, resulting in less workers being diagnosed with occupational lung diseases.
Advances in airborne dust control technologies and work processes may indicate that more innovative measures are available for dust control and mitigation. We will monitor the available literature to explore:
  • the changes and advancements in dust control measures
  • work processes to avoid or mitigate exposure, and
  • the factors that can influence the effectiveness of dust control measures and mitigation.
To inform our communication to a broad range of industries about how to achieve effective dust control in a contemporary workplace and protect workers from airborne dust exposure.
The extent and incidence of occupational lung disease in Australia over the last decade is unknown. We will investigate available data sources. To obtain a better picture about the number of workers and occupations affected by occupational lung diseases using accurate data and evidence.
We have published Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006–2019 which presents changes in the extent and incidence of occupational lung diseases since the 2006 Occupational respiratory disease in Australia. To provide a present day view and estimate the incidence of occupational lung diseases in Australia.
There is limited national data available to inform national policy work for occupational lung diseases.

We have undertaken a regulator data capture project to understand the scope of data collected, recorded and held by WHS regulators.

We are exploring a range of other national data sets with the goal of improving evidence on occupational lung disease.

Access accurate data and evidence related to occupational lung diseases to:
  • support national policy interventions
  • increase our visibility of national issues, and
  • identify emerging trends.

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