Work-related respiratory diseases
There are many types of respiratory diseases that may be linked to occupational exposure.
Common examples include:
Asbestos-related conditions (Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, Lung Cancers and Benign Pleural Conditions)
Asbestos is the term used to describe a group of naturally occurring minerals whose characteristic feature is that they occur as fibres. The most common types used in Australia have been:
- chrysotile (white asbestos)
- amosite (brown asbestos)
- crocidolite (blue asbestos).
Mesothelioma is cancer typically related to exposure to asbestos that affects the thin tissue membranes that cover internal organs in either the thoracic cavity, heart sac or abdominal cavity. Like asbestosis, there is usually a long latency period between first exposure and onset of disease.
Asbestosis is a non-malignant, scarring of the lung tissue. There is usually a long latency period between first exposure and onset of disease.
Lung cancer is a term used to describe a growth of abnormal cells in the lung – cells that continue to grow in an uncontrolled manner and eventually spread. Whilst tobacco smoke is the biggest cause of lung cancer, asbestos is an additional risk factor, as is radiation and family history.
Benign pleural disease caused by asbestos can include pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening and pleurisy with effusion.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms relating to asbestosis, mesothelioma or any other form of asbestos-related disease, please see your doctor and call WorkCover on 1300 362 128 or your self-insured employer to discuss your condition.
Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay, and in products such as bricks and concrete. Silica can lead to lung diseases such as silicosis, lung cancer, obstructive lung disease, bronchitis, asthma and loss of respiratory volume.
Occupations with a risk of exposure to silica include, but are not limited to, stonemasonry, farmers, engineers, and manufacturing, mining, construction.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms caused by contact with silica, please see your doctor and call WorkCover on 1300 362 128 or your self-insured employer to discuss your condition.
Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis
Coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP/Black Lung) is a type of lung disease caused generally by long-term occupational exposure to respirable (fine, breathable) coal dust.
The disease can manifest in different ways in individuals, depending on the composition of the dust, the duration of exposure and other individual factors.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms relating to coal workers' pneumoconiosis, please see your doctor and call WorkCover on 1300 362 128 or your self-insured employer to discuss your condition.
Coal dust lung disease – power station workers
If you are a current power station worker and concerned you may have a coal dust lung disease, such as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or are experiencing respiratory symptoms you believe are related to your work you should see your doctor and discuss your concerns.
You should also contact WorkCover Queensland to understand your workers' compensation rights.
For more information, refer to the Coal dust lung disease – power station workers guidance(PDF, 134.87 KB) .
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a long-term disease of the lungs which causes shortness of breath. COPD is an umbrella term for conditions including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma which is irreversible.
While there is no cure for COPD, there are things you can do to breathe easier and improve your quality of life particularly if it is identified and managed early.
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 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Protracted bacterial bronchitis is defined as a chronic productive cough with a positive bronchoalveolar lavage that resolves with antibiotics. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include wheezing and shortness of breath, especially upon exertion and low oxygen saturations. The cough is often worse soon after awakening, and the sputum produced may have a yellow or green color and may be streaked with specks of blood.
Occupational asthma is a lung disorder in which substances found in the workplace cause the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow. This leads to attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
There are further types of respiratory diseases that may be work-related which are not listed above. Please consult your doctor for further advice.
Support for people with work-related respiratory diseases
If you are suffering from a respiratory disease and you believe it may have been caused by exposure to airborne dust, mist, fibres, fumes, vapours or gas during your employment in Queensland, you should contact WorkCover Queensland to understand your workers’ compensation rights.
The WorkCover scheme operates on a ‘no fault’ basis, which means that you do not have to prove negligence by your employer or any other party to be entitled to statutory benefits.
What if I am employed by a self-insurer?
WorkCover Queensland covers most employers, however some employers in Queensland manage their own workers’ compensation claims. If your employer is licensed as a self-insurer please contact their workers’ compensation unit directly to lodge a claim or for any claim questions.
WorkCover is able to direct you to the correct insurer, if your employer is self-insured.
Making a claim
It's easy to make a claim with WorkCover Queensland for a work-related respiratory disease and ensure you get quick access to medical treatment and support if your claim is accepted:
- Ask your doctor whether they consider you to have a respiratory disease that may be work-related. If your doctor considers your respiratory disease to be work-related then obtain a work capacity certificate from them.
- To make a claim with WorkCover Queensland, please call 1300 362 128 or make a claim online.
If your claim is accepted, you may be eligible to receive compensation 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 an injury that is a pneumoconiosis (an occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of respirable dust)
- Lump sum benefits for those suffering from terminal respiratory diseases
- Support with regards to return to work
- You may also be able to sue your employer and claim damages if you can prove your employer was negligent.
- Last updated
- 14 June 2019
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Register for a free information session
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists will deliver 10 information sessions across the state.