Occupational exposures are an important determinant of respiratory health. International estimates note that about 15% of adult-onset asthma, 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 10-30% of lung cancer may be attributable to hazardous occupational exposures. Onequarter of working asthmatics either have had their asthma caused by work or adversely affected by workplace conditions.
Recently, cases of historical occupational lung diseases have been noted to occur with new exposures, such as cases of silicosis in workers fabricating kitchen benchtops from artificial stone products.
Identification of an occupational cause of a lung disease can be difficult and requires maintaining a high index of suspicion. When an occupational lung disease is identified, this may facilitate a cure and help to protect coworkers.
Currently, very little information is collected regarding actual cases of occupational lung diseases in Australia. Most assumptions about many occupational lung diseases are based on extrapolation from overseas data. This lack of information is a major impediment to development of targeted interventions and timely identification of new hazardous exposures.
All employers, governments and health care providers in Australia have a responsibility to ensure that the highest possible standards are in place to protect workers' respiratory health.