Occupational lung diseases

Breathing in dust, gases, vapours or fumes at work can affect workers’ respiratory systems and cause lung diseases. 

Lung diseases can develop fast or take many years. Some can also lead to cancer.

Some of the common hazards that cause occupational lung diseases are:

Types of occupational lung diseases

Pneumoconiosis is lung disease that is caused by breathing in certain types of dust. Commons types are: 

  • dust with aluminium (aluminosis) 

  • asbestos (asbestosis) 

  • dusts or vapours with beryllium (berylliosis, also called chronic beryllium disease) 

  • cotton dust (byssinosis) 

  • coal dust (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, sometimes called ‘black lung’) 

  • dusts of hard metals such as tungsten, tungsten carbide and cobalt (hard metal pneumoconiosis, also called hard metal lung disease) 

  • crystalline silica (silicosis) 

  • talc dust (talcosis) 

Other occupational lung diseases can be caused by breathing in:  

  • asbestos or wood dust (mesothelioma and other cancers) 

  • some chemicals or allergens, like pollen (asthma), and 

  • some gases or fumes (chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)) 

What we’re doing about occupational lung disease 

Occupational lung disease is a priority condition under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022

Our work plan: 

  • supplements states’ and territories’ compliance and education activities 

  • raises awareness of duties and control measures to eliminate and minimise airborne contaminants that cause occupational lung disease, and 

  • informs national policy. 

Occupational lung disease work plan 

Issue 

Key initiative 

Objective 

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

National guide for Working with silica and silica-containing products, with information on working with engineered stone products. 

The guide is translated in six languages. 

Improve worker health and safety with more awareness of work health and safety (WHS) duties and safe work practices to reduce exposure to respirable crystalline silica. 

Duty holders, particularly in small to medium enterprise often don't know their WHS duties and how they must protect their workers from dusts that can cause occupational lung diseases. 

Develop and support national education and awareness activities, focussing on micro and small to medium enterprises, to raise awareness of occupational lung diseases and how to prevent them. 

Improve compliance with 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 more innovative measures are available for dust control and mitigation. 

Monitor the literature to explore:  

  • changes and advancements in dust control measures 

  • work processes to avoid or mitigate exposure  

  • the factors that can influence dust control measures and mitigation. 

Inform our communication to industries about how to control dust in the workplace and protect workers from airborne dust exposure. 

The extent and incidence of occupational lung disease in Australia over the last decade is unknown. 

Investigate data sources. 

Get a better picture about the number of workers and occupations affected by occupational lung diseases using accurate data and evidence. 

The extent and incidence of occupational lung disease in Australia over the last decade is unknown. 

Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006–2019  presents changes in the extent and incidence of occupational lung diseases since the 2006 report, Occupational respiratory disease in Australia

A current view and estimate of the incidence of occupational lung diseases in Australia. 

There is limited national data available to inform national policy work for occupational lung diseases. 

A regulator data capture project to understand the scope of data WHS regulators collect, record and hold. 

We are exploring a range of other national data sets to improve 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 

  • identify emerging trends. 

Supporting information