Occupational Lung Diseases

Occupational lung diseases are a group of respiratory conditions that arise due to exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.

These diseases can range from mild and reversible to severe and irreversible conditions, impacting workers’ quality of life and ability to work. The specific type of lung diseases developed can depend on the substance inhaled, the level and duration of exposure, and individual susceptibility.

Builder in mask

Types of Occupational Lung Diseases

Caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust (found in mining, quarrying, and sandblasting) and displays symptoms of coughing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue.

Often referred to as “brown lung”, this is caused by inhaling cotton dust in environments such as textile factories. Symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, and breathing difficulties, particularly at the beginning of the workweek.

Caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres (common in construction, manufacturing, and shipbuilding) and can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. Symptoms include progressive lung fibrosis and breathing difficulties.

Also known as “black lung”, this is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust, with symptoms of a chronic cough and shortness of breath. Can lead to an increased risk of progressive massive fibrosis.

A form of asthma triggered by inhaling specific substances in the workplace. These substances can include chemical fumes, gases, dust, or other particles. Symptoms are similar to those of non-occupational asthma: wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Also known as farmer’s lung, this disease is caused by an allergic reaction to inhaled organic dusts, moulds, or chemicals. Symptoms include lung inflammation, coughing, and shortness of breath.

While COPD is often related to smoking, occupational exposures to dusts, chemicals, and fumes can also contribute to or exacerbate the condition. Symptoms include persistent cough, mucus production, and difficulty breathing.


Occupational lung diseases result from exposure to various hazardous materials such as dust, fibres, chemicals, and fumes present in specific work environments.


Symptoms may differ depending on the specific condition, but conditions often share common symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Scratchy, sore, or dry throat
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath with and without physical activity
  • Chest pain
  • Abnormal breathing patterns

When to See a Healthcare Provider

While preventative measures are important for minimising the risk of occupational lung diseases, it’s essential to recognise the signs and symptoms that warrant medical attention:

  • Persistent respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or wheezing, especially if these symptoms worsen over time or interfere with daily activities.
  • Exposure to hazardous environments, such as dust fumes, chemicals, or other respiratory hazards. It’s important to undergo regular health screenings if you work in these environments, and seek medical evaluation if you develop any abnormal respiratory symptoms.
  • History of occupational exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing). It’s important to discuss any concerns or symptoms with a healthcare provider, even they seem mild or intermittent, and even if you no longer work in these conditions.


There is unfortunately no cure for occupational lung diseases, however, there are treatment options to help with managing symptoms and preventing further exposure.

  • Remove yourself from exposure to prevent continuous exposure to harmful substances.
  • Take prescribed medications according to instructions to manage symptoms.
  • Oxygen therapy may be considered in advanced stages (where lung function is significantly compromised) to relieve shortness of breath and reduce the workload on the heart.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation programs manage breathing difficulties through breathing exercises and nutritional guidance.


Occupational lung diseases primarily result from inhalation or exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. Unlike infectious diseases, which can be transmitted from person to person, occupational lung diseases generally do not spread through direct contact or respiratory droplets.

However, these diseases can occasionally be transmitted through indirect exposure. Workers may inadvertently carry hazardous substances on their clothing, shoes, or personal protective equipment, leading to secondary exposure among family members or others outside the workplace environment.


While treatment and supportive care are vital, a proactive approach to prevention remains the most effective strategy. This involves continuous efforts to identify and eliminate or minimise hazardous exposures in the workplace through robust occupational health and safety practices, such as wearing a respiratory mask. Education and training programs on the importance of preventative measures, proper use of protective equipment, and early reporting of symptoms contribute to creating a healthier and safer working environment for all employees.

Occupational lung diseases pose a significant threat to workers’ health, emphasising the importance of proactive measures and a comprehensive approach to workplace safety.

North Brisbane Sleep and Thoracic are dedicated to helping you take care of your lungs with specialised care.

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Visit us at either our Clayfield or North Lakes location and experience compassionate care in a comfortable environment, tailored to meet your unique needs.