Safe Work Australia report highlights occupational lung disease concerns

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Tuesday, 25 August, 2020 - 13:30
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National News

Work-related asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coal workers pneumoconiosis continue to be occupational lung diseases of significance in Australia, according to a recent Safe Work Australia report.

Exposure to coal dust in Australian mines and respirable crystalline silica dust in engineered stone workers is of particular concern, and Safe Work Australia said continual education and awareness of these diseases is required.

The report, Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006 – 2019 was prepared by the Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health and outlines the current landscape of occupational lung diseases in Australia.

Another occupational lung disease of importance is hypersensitivity pneumonitis (also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis), and based on overseas research findings, the report said hypersensitivity pneumonitis may be grossly underestimated in Australia because of the lack of Australian data currently available.

The report draws upon peer-reviewed literature, grey literature and available Australian data sources to estimate the impact of common occupational lung diseases and occupational exposures.

It also identifies industries and occupations where workers may be at risk of developing an occupational lung disease, such as the construction, mining and quarrying industries and those working with engineered stone.

The collection and analysis of available data sources found that several significant trends have emerged since the 2006 report Occupational respiratory disease in Australia, including:

  • a substantial increase in pneumoconiosis, especially coal workers pneumoconiosis from coal mine work, and silicosis from working with engineered stone
  • a decline in workers’ compensation claims for asbestos-related occupational lung diseases, such as asbestosis
  • an increase in understanding of the role of occupational exposures and the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and
  • an apparent decline in work-related asthma cases as evidenced by fewer compensation claims.


“Overall, the report demonstrates that occupational lung diseases remain an important group of occupational diseases among workers in Australia and they continue to substantially contribute to the burden of lung diseases in Australia,” Safe Work Australia said.

The report also said targeted research is needed to help identify patterns of incidence of occupational lung diseases in high-risk industries and occupations, including analysis of existing health monitoring data to identify cohorts of workers in high-risk jobs, increasing health monitoring programs, and conducting longitudinal studies.

Findings from the report will inform the implementation of Safe Work Australia’s occupational lung diseases work plan and national policy to address occupational lung diseases.