In the United States occupational lung disease is the number one cause of on-the-job illness. This disease tops the list both in frequency and severity yet is, in almost every case, preventable. Over 20 percent of men worldwide have been exposed to some type of dangerous occupational irritant that may cause cancer and 5 to 20 percent of women have experienced similar types of exposure.
Occupational asthma is the most common occupational lung disease in the U.S. and approximately 15-23 percent of all new asthma cases are caused by occupational irritants. Individuals who already suffer from asthma may experience increasing severity of symptoms due to workplace exposures.
According to the American Lung Association the cost associated with occupational illnesses is estimated to be over $45 billion per year. Additional indirect costs may make that number climb as high as $229 billion annually.
Ethnicity of employees also seems to play a part in the statistics of occupational disease. In 2005 African American employees held approximately 30 percent of the 70,000 U.S. textile jobs. These individuals were 80 percent more likely to die from byssinosis, a chronic lung disease caused by dust produced in textile factories, than their Caucasian counterparts. Hispanics are the most likely ethnic group to work in high-risk occupations while those of Asian descent are least likely to hold a job that involves dangerous exposure.