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Work-related respiratory diseases

These are conditions that affect your lungs and ability to breathe. They can result from being exposed to things like dust, fibres, fumes and other substances while doing your job.

There are lots of types of respiratory diseases that could be linked to your work.  Explore the sections below for more information on some of the more common ones.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre that was once used widely by many industries. In Australia it was commonly used in the construction of homes and other buildings until it was banned in 2003 due to health risks.

Asbestos is known to cause life-threatening illnesses such as:

  • mesothelioma (cancer typically related to asbestos exposure)
  • asbestosis (non-cancerous scarring of lung tissue)
  • lung cancer
  • benign pleural disease.

Silica is a natural substance found in rocks, sand and clay. It’s also found in common construction materials like bricks, concrete and stone.

Jobs in industries such as, but not limited to, stonemasonry, farming, construction, engineering, and mining are at risk of being exposed to silica.

Silica can cause:

  • silicosis
  • lung cancer
  • obstructive lung disease
  • bronchitis
  • asthma
  • loss of respiratory volume.

Viral infections are caused by viruses that are transmitted from one person to another.

Viruses that may cause infection include:

  • COVID-19
  • Influenza A or B
  • RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)
  • Human metapneumovirus
  • Adenovirus.

These viruses may cause coughing, shortness of breath, sinus issues as well as fevers and body aches and pains.

Ways to reduce the risk of viruses spreading in the workplace include:

  • encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick to reduce the exposure and spread to other workers and people visiting the workplace
  • maintaining a hygienic workplace, including regular cleaning of commonly touched and used surfaces
  • providing handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser for workers and people visiting the workplace
  • changing the layout of the workplace to allow social distancing between workers, clients/customers and other visitors where possible
  • ensuring good ventilation and air flow with working air-conditioners, vents or windows
  • if respiratory protective equipment is not usually required, making masks available and encouraging workers to wear them if they cannot socially distance or want to protect themselves from viral illnesses
  • promoting good personal hygiene when sneezing or coughing, by covering your mouth and nose with an elbow or tissue
  • following the advice and directions from Queensland Health.

More information

Also known as ‘black lung’, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis is generally caused by breathing in coal dust over a long period of time.

It can affect coal workers in different ways depending on the dust, the length of time you were exposed and other factors.

More information

COPD is a term which covers lung conditions such as:

  • emphysema
  • chronic bronchitis
  • chronic asthma.

If COPD is identified early it can be managed to improve your quality of life.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts for three months or more per year, for at least two years. Most people with chronic bronchitis also have COPD.

Symptoms include:

  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • prolonged coughing
  • low oxygen levels
  • discoloured sputum (phlegm).

This disorder is characterised by chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. It can be caused when substances found in your workplace affect your airways, making them swell and narrow.

What should I do if I think this affects me?

If you’re experiencing respiratory symptoms that you believe are work-related, please see your doctor as soon as possible. If your doctor considers your condition to be work-related they’ll supply you with a work capacity certificate.

You should also contact WorkCover or your self-insured employer to talk about your condition and your worker’s compensation rights.

Compensation for work-related respiratory diseases

You may be able to claim compensation for your condition, which will help you get the support and treatment you need.

If your claim is accepted you may be compensated for:

  • lost wages
  • medical, surgical and hospital expenses
  • chest screening X-rays or scans
  • rehabilitation treatment and equipment services
  • travel expenses for tests/ scans or rehabilitation appointments
  • lump sum benefits for permanent impairment
  • additional lump sum benefits for workers suffering from pneumoconiosis
  • lump sum benefits for those suffering from terminal respiratory diseases
  • support in returning to work.

You may also be able claim additional compensation through the common law claims process if your employer was at fault.

For more detailed information on respiratory diseases and compensation claims, watch the video below.

Where can I find more information?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of respiratory diseases that can be work-related; there are others.

You can find out more detailed information about work-related respiratory conditions at Lung Foundation Australia and Cancer Council Queensland.