Occupational diseases are those illnesses that occur due to exposure to irritants in the workplace. Occupational illnesses may occur instantaneously due to exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes or may take years to develop due to long-term exposure. Many individuals today are faced with respiratory disease such as adult asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. These diseases are life changing and can often be fatal. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) many of these airway and lung diseases are being contracted on the job. The CDC states that almost 30 percent of adult asthma and COPD may be caused by irritants in the workplace. Over 20 million American workers may be exposed to these dangerous substances each year. In addition to respiratory diseases, individuals may also be exposed to substances that cause lung diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma, obstructive lung disease, lung cancer and a host of other serious illnesses. The American Lung Association cites occupational lung disease as the number one cause of workplace illness. Not all occupational diseases lead to death but a significant amount greatly diminish quality of life.
Many jobs require employees to work in close proximity to dangerous substances. These substances include asbestos and coal dust, which are well known to cause respiratory and/or lung diseases. In addition to these substances, there are many lesser-known irritants that can also be harmful after long-term exposure. Even short-term exposure to some gases or fumes can have long lasting and damaging effects.