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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Chapter 14 - Occupational lung disease



Occupational lung disease is the most significant form of work-related illness in the United States in terms of its severity, frequency and cost to society. The US Department of Labor reported the occurrence of some 4.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses in 2006, including 17 700 respiratory ailments in private industry alone and an incidence of non-fatal occupational respiratory illness of 1.9 cases per 10 000 full-time workers. Occupational lung diseases result in one of the most significant causes of lost work productivity, with the highest rate of days away from work due to respiratory illness sustained by the mining industry. Occupational lung diseases are the third most prevalent (246 per 100 000 population) in the European Union, also with the highest proportion found in the mining industry. Technological advances in construction have led to new groups of at-risk workers in addition to the traditional occupations in mining and quarry work. Global estimates of disability and disease resultant from occupational exposure to airborne particulates also include 386 000 deaths from pneumoconiosis, asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases.

The toll that occupational lung diseases exact upon society is reflected in estimated direct and indirect costs that number in the billions of dollars. Occupational lung diseases cause significant morbidity, which usually lacks curative medical intervention at the time of presentation, apart from jobsite or occupation modification. Stringent oversight of workplace conditions and permissible exposures on the part of governments and regulatory agencies, along with the retention of occupational health physicians on the part of larger firms, will hopefully mitigate the development of severe disease in the future.

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