The term 'pneumoconiosis' refers to a group of lung diseases caused by the inhalation - and retention in the lungs - of dusts. The most commonly occurring types of pneumoconiosis (apart from asbestosis) are coal worker's pneumoconiosis, arising from the inhalation of coal dust, and silicosis, arising from the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (RCS). There is a long delay - up to ten years or more - between exposure and onset of disease, so most new cases or deaths from pneumoconiosis reflect the working conditions of the past and occur in individuals who have retired.
Pneumoconiosis cases can be classified in four groups:
- coal worker's pneumoconiosis
- other unspecified pneumoconiosis
In 2008, the number of cases of coal worker's pneumoconiosis (230) continued to fall compared with previous years, whereas the number of cases of silicosis or other pneumoconiosis (85) remained similar to previous years. For silicosis and other pneumoconiosis cases, the industries affected are quarrying, foundries and potteries, suggesting that silica is the predominant cause.