Sponsored Workplace toxins could be causing lifetime damage
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Workplace toxins could be causing lifetime damage

Dust disease
Working in environments containing dust, chemicals and fumes could put you at risk of developing a chronic lung condition. Photo: Getty
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Public health messages have effectively warned Australians about the dangers of exposure to dust, chemicals and fumes in the workplace.

Awareness of cancerous diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma is high and linked to toxins, but there is less known about a host of other chronic and debilitating health conditions that are not cancerous but still have a detrimental impact on your health.

Workers who are exposed to dust and toxins may not know they are at risk of developing silicosis, asbestosis and occupational asthma.

These occupational lung diseases develop over months, sometimes years, without becoming immediately apparent.

It means symptoms may not be obvious and when symptoms are noticed, they may not be bad enough to suggest a serious underlying health condition.

Occupational asthma

People who already have asthma that is worsened at work and those who develop asthma while on the job have occupational asthma.

Health experts estimate up to 25 per cent of adults have work-related asthma and 15 per cent of adult-onset asthma may be caused by hazardous occupational exposures.

Dust disease
Workers who are exposed to dust and toxins may not know they are at risk of developing silicosis, asbestosis and occupational asthma. Photo: Getty

It’s crucial to know the signs of occupational asthma and this can be done by monitoring symptoms while at work compared to being away from work (including weekends and leave periods).

A heavier reliance on medication at work should be reported to a GP so symptoms can be recorded.

The GP may compare symptoms with work history to determine whether a link exists.

Silicosis

Silicosis is preventable, but sadly there is no cure and it can be terminal.

It is caused by breathing in crystalline silica, which is found in stone, sand, concrete and mortar.

Stonemasons and other workers who use it to make composite stone for benchtops, bricks, tiles and some plastics are most at risk.

The Centre for Resources Health and Safety at the University of Newcastle estimates more than 500,000 workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace every year.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is caused by exposure to asbestos dust, which leads to scarring in the lungs and in the lining that surrounds the lungs.

This lung damage is not reversible.

Worryingly, symptoms typically appear 10 to 20 years after exposure. These include difficulty breathing, coughing, lung damage and in severe cases, have an enlarged heart.