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Respiratory Health at Work

When people think of health hazards in the workplace, they’re often thinking of lifting injuries, or injuries from heavy machinery, or cuts, bruises, and falls. It’s important to pay attention to general health of all kinds in the workplace, to stay on top of any symptoms or work-related causes that may arise. Respiratory problems and diseases in the workplace are quite common. Here are a few to be aware of.


Asthma is a disease of the lungs, in which the airways become inflamed and narrow. Medicines may help control asthma, but equally important is avoiding triggers. Asthma symptoms include:

· Wheezing episodes

· Tightness of the chest

· Shortness of breath

· Coughing

There are over 300 known or suspected things in workplaces that either cause asthma, or make asthma worse.

Black Lung and Other Related Diseases

Certain lung diseases, called pneumoconiosis, are caused by workplace exposure, often over a long period of time, which makes them so difficult to deal with. Sometimes they appear sooner, but in all cases, they can cause disability, impairment of the lungs, and early death. Dust control is one of the primary ways to reduce these diseases. These diseases include:

· Black lung, from inhaling dust from a coal mine

· Silicosis, from inhaling silica dust

· Asbestosis, from inhaling asbestos fibers

Lung Cancer

While one major contributor to lung cancer that most of us are aware of is smoking, exposure in and out of the workplace can cause cancer, as well. A few known causes of lung cancer are:

· Secondhand smoke

· Radon exposure

· Asbestos exposure

· Arsenic Exposure


COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease that limits how much air can move in and out of the lungs. Included within the COPD umbrella are emphysema and bronchitis. In 2018, COPD was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with C

OPD, and many do not know they have it. Women are more likely to have COPD, as are people 54 to 74 years old, or those older than 75. You can find out more at the CDC’s website. Some COPD symptoms include:

· Production of excess mucus, phlegm or sputum

· Frequent wheezing or coughing

· Shortness of breath

· Difficulty when taking deep breaths


Tuberculosis (TB) is most common in places where people share a space for a long time, especially in healthcare settings. It is also commonly found in Jails, homeless shelters and emergency shelters. TB is contagious, spread through the air, and is potentially life-threatening. It is preventable and treatable, but focusing on prevention first is key, rather than waiting for it to get worse.


Many lung ailments, especially the kind that can are found in the workplace, are preventable. Find more here. You should always take the proper precautions to avoid exposure whenever possible, including wearing proper safety gear to protect your airways and lungs, and speak to your company’s safety manager if procedures are not being followed, or if you feel unsafe at work.

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