Work-related respiratory disease covers a range of illnesses that are caused or made worse by breathing in hazardous substances that damage the lungs such as dusts, fumes and gases. The most prevalent of these diseases are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and silicosis.
Overall there are currently approximately 12,000 deaths each year due to occupational respiratory diseases, about two-thirds of which are due to asbestos-related diseases or COPD. In addition, there are about 35, 000 people who worked in the last year, and 130,000 who had ever worked who currently have breathing or lung problems they thought were caused or made worse by work and a further estimated 13,000 new cases.
There are a number of industries and workplace activities which are linked to a high incidence and greater risk of respiratory disease – either because there is a large population potentially exposed or there is evidence of a high incidence rate. These priorities are: