Information for Workers and Employers about Occupational Lung Disease

What are occupational lung diseases?

An occupational lung disease is caused or aggravated by exposure at your job. They are usually caused by repeated and long-term exposure to irritating or toxic substances. However, even a single, severe exposure to a hazardous substance can damage the lungs. Occupational lung diseases can also occur when an existing respiratory problem is made worse by certain job exposures.

What are some types of occupational lung diseases?

Occupational asthma, occupational lung cancer, silicosis, and asbestosis are just some of the occupational lung diseases.

What are examples of substances on the job that may cause lung disease?

Some workplace irritants include chemicals in paints, cleaning products and beauty salon products; dust (dander) from animals and insects; dust from wood; dust and mold from poorly cleaned and maintained buildings; latex gloves; flour; chalk dust; asbestos and silica.

Who can get occupational lung disease?

Anyone can get work-related lung disease, including office workers, construction workers, hospital workers, teachers, and beauty salon workers to name a few.

What are the symptoms of occupational lung disease?

Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and chest tightness. While these are the most common symptoms of lung disease, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Some individuals may not have any symptoms. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

How are occupational lung diseases diagnosed?

The same tests and procedures, such as symptom history, physical exam, chest x-ray and breathing test, that are used to diagnose lung disease will be used to diagnose an occupational lung disease. In addition a doctor will look for exposure to materials on the job that may be damaging to the lungs. They do this by taking a complete work and exposure history. Tell your doctor all the jobs you have held and the types of substances you work with on these jobs.

How can occupational lung diseases be prevented?

Occupational lung diseases are preventable. Wearing protective equipment, changing work procedures, and being educated on how to safely handle substances at work are key to preventing work-related lung diseases.

How are occupational lung diseases treated?

The types of treatment you receive will depend on the type and severity of lung disease you have, as well as your age, overall health, and medical history. Consult your physician for more information regarding the treatment of occupational lung diseases.

What should I do if I think I have an occupational lung disease?

Talk to your doctor. The New York State Occupational Health Clinic Network is also available to help assist with the diagnosis and treatment of occupational diseases. Their services are available to all workers, retirees and residents of New York State. No worker will be turned away because of inability to pay. To locate an occupational health clinic in your area New York State Occupational Health Clinic Locations and Phone Numbers.

Resources for Workers and Employers about Occupational Lung Disease

  • Work-Related Asthma

    • Is Your Asthma Work-Related? Available in English and Spanish. Work-related asthma is more common than you think. Find out if your job could be affecting your asthma, and what you can do to control your asthma at work.
    • Occupational Asthmagens. A list of common occupational asthma triggers and the occupations where they are often encountered.
  • Silicosis

  • Green Cleaning

    • New York's Green Cleaning Program. A wealth of free information and tools to promote effective green cleaning practices.
  • Cleaning Products and Asthma

    • Cleaning practices hang tags. Many cleaning products contain chemicals that may cause asthma, and these chemicals can certainly make existing asthma worse. This is a concern for workers who use the cleaning products as well as for other occupants where cleaning is taking place. Here is a set of images that encourage asthma friendly cleaning practices that can be used by establishments, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, and motels.
    • Design for the Environment. A US Environmental Protection Agency program, helps consumers, businesses, and institutional buyers identify cleaning and other products that perform well and are safer for human health and the environment.
    • Protecting Workers Who Use Cleaning Chemicals. Infosheet by the Occupational Safety & Health/National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.
    • Protect Yourself: Cleaning Chemical and Your Health (English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog). Poster from the Occupational Safety & Health/National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.
    • Cleaning Products and Work-Related Asthma: Information for Workers (English, Spanish, Chinese). Factsheet from the California Department of Public Health.
    • Asthma and Cleaning Products at Work (English, Portuguese, Spanish). Brochure from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
    • Asthma and Cleaning Agents: What You Need to Know. Brochure from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Department of Medicine.
    • Asthma and Cleaning Products: What Workers Need to Know (English, Spanish). Brochure from the New Jersey Department of Health.
    • Asthma and Cleaning Products: What Workers Need to Know (English, Spanish, French, Nepali, Swahili). Factsheet from the New Hampshire Asthma Collaborative and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Hair Straightening Products and Formaldehyde