What are occupational lung diseases?

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Written by Joy Monaghan

Occupational lung diseases are those diseases affecting the lungs and caused by or made worse by work. There are several serious lung diseases that can be caused by exposure to harmful agents in the workplace. This includes life-limiting and life-threatening conditions such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

These diseases can affect various parts of the respiratory system, including the lungs, airways, and pleura. The causes of occupational lung diseases can vary depending on the specific disease, but they generally result from prolonged or repeated exposure to hazardous substances or conditions in the workplace. However, some illnesses such as occupational asthma and legionella infections can develop shortly after exposure. 

The Health and Safety Executive’s 2021 report revealed occupational lung disease contributes to an estimated 12,000 deaths each year, and 400,000 working days lost in Great Britain.1 


Occupational respiratory disease can occur in most industry sectors and are caused by a wide range of agents, from biological organisms through to dusts, fumes, and vapours. Asbestos and respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are remarkably consistent contributors to the development of lung diseases. Workplace respiratory hazards contribute to a range of conditions, including:

  • Respiratory cancers, including lung cancer and mesothelioma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Silicosis, asbestosis, and other forms of pneumoconiosis
  • Legionella, tuberculosis, and other infections
  • Occupational asthma
  • Diffuse pleural thickening and pleural plaques
  • Allergic alveolitis and byssinosis


The two most common symptoms of occupational lung diseases are difficulty in breathing, and coughing. Health surveillance should be considered for workers who are involved in high-risk occupations, consisting of respiratory questionnaires, lung function testing (spirometry), and where necessary, chest x-rays.


Preventing occupational lung disease involves identifying workplace hazards, implementing safety measures, using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and adhering to regulatory guidelines. Early detection and medical surveillance of workers at risk are also crucial for minimising the impact of these diseases.

Workers should also be educated about the potential risks and encouraged to report any symptoms to their employers or healthcare providers. Additionally, spirometry can be used to assist in diagnosing asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other conditions that affect breathing.2


Amplivox is proud to offer a suite of industry-leading spirometry solutions to meet the requirements of occupational and respiratory health professionals. With the inclusion of class-leading spirometry PC database applications, users can benefit from comprehensive data analysis, trending, and transfer capabilities.

For more information on our spirometry products please visit our spirometers webpage, contact our customer support team on +44 (0)1865 880 846 or email.




1Health and Safety Executive (2021). Occupational Lung Disease statistics in Great Britain, 2021. Accessed at:

2Health and Safety Executive (2016). Health surveillance for those exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Guidance for occupational health professionals. Accessed at:

"About the author:"

Joy Monaghan
Sales and Development Manager