Lung Disease and Work

Contact with respiratory hazards at work can give rise to occupational lung disease.  There are a range of substances and hazards, for example:

  • Coal and stone dust: pneumoconiosis and silicosis
  • Asbestos fibres: asbestosis and mesothelioma
  • Isocyanates: asthma
  • Dusts, e.g. wood: rhinitis, asthma, cancer
  • Fumes, e.g. welding fume, chemicals: rhinitis, asthma
  • Animal proteins in hair, fur, skin and urine: rhinitis, asthma
  • Cotton dust: byssinosis
  • Moulds from fungus and plants: alveolitis, farmer’s lung

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended), employers need to risk assess all activities which involve such hazards and put in place controls to prevent exposure at such a level where it would cause harm to employees.  Employees have a duty to comply with all control mechanisms put in place for their safety, e.g. wearing Personal Protective Equipment, using guarding or ventilation equipment, engaging with health surveillance programmes run by the employer.

OH runs health surveillance programmes for respiratory hazards.  These are for staff employed in occupations where they may come into contact with fumes, dusts, and animal products.  The need for health surveillance is determined by management through risk assessment.  Information is passed to OH by Hazard Identification Forms and COSHH data sheets. 

If you are identified to OH as potentially being in contact with respiratory sensitisers, you will be contacted and asked to attend for a baseline lung function test, (spirometry).  Following this you will be sent a review questionnaire every 6 or 12 months until you are no longer involved in this type of work.  You will be invited back to OH for discussion if you highlight any new symptoms that could be linked to you developing lung disease associated with your work.  If you are concerned about any new symptoms you are developing, you do not need to wait until you are sent your review questionnaire.  You should discuss this with your manager and they should undertake a Management Referral to OH for advice.  Alternatively, you can self-refer to OH to discuss these symptoms; you should be aware that if the symptoms require further investigation your management will need to be aware of this.  If the OH practitioner believes that your symptoms do require further investigation you will be referred to the Occupational Lung Disease Department at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust in London

Further Information

OH Health Surveillance and Screening Document
Inhalation Disorders (IOSH)
Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust webpage on Occupational Asthma
HSE Occupational Lung Disease in Great Britain in 2017