Global Trends in Occupational Lung Disease

Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2023 Jun;44(3):317-326. doi: 10.1055/s-0043-1766117. Epub 2023 Apr 18.


Lung diseases caused by workplace exposure are too often mis- or underdiagnosed due in part to nonexistent or inadequate health surveillance programs for workers. Many of these diseases are indistinguishable from those that occur in the general population and are not recognized as being caused at least in part by occupational exposures. More than 10% of all lung diseases are estimated to result from workplace exposures. This study reviews recent estimates of the burden of the most important occupational lung diseases using data published by United Nations specialized agencies as well as the Global Burden of Disease studies. We focus on occupational chronic respiratory disease of which chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma are the most significant. Among occupational cancers, lung cancer is the most common, and is associated with more than 10 important workplace carcinogens. Classic occupational interstitial lung diseases such as asbestosis, silicosis, and coal workers' pneumoconiosis still comprise a substantial burden of disease in modern industrial societies, while other occupational causes of pulmonary fibrosis and granulomatous inflammation are frequently misclassified as idiopathic. Occupational respiratory infections gained prominence during the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, eclipsing influenza and tuberculosis and other less common workplace infectious agents. The most significant risks are workplace exposures to particulate matter, gases, and fumes as well as occupational carcinogens and asthmagens. We present data on the burden of disease measured by deaths attributable to occupational respiratory disease as well as disability-adjusted years of life lost. Where available, prevalence and incidence data are also presented. These diseases are unique in that they are theoretically 100% preventable if appropriate exposure controls and workplace medical surveillance are implemented. This remains a continuing challenge globally and requires steadfast commitment on the part of government, industry, organized labor, and the medical profession.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Carcinogens
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial* / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases* / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Carcinogens