Many workers in various industries are exposed to toxic substances while on the job. While this is a necessary part of certain jobs, far too many people, unfortunately, become sick from diseases caused by their exposure at work.
Exposure to harmful substances can interfere with or cause damage to organs or vital systems including the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and even the reproductive system.
The best way to protect ourselves against harmful substances is to wear the right personal protective equipment correctly. It is your employer’s responsibility to provide and enforce the proper wearing of PPE in the workplace.
A study by Cancer Australia estimates that occupational exposures to carcinogens cause over 5,000 cases of cancer in Australia each year and that around 3.6 million Australians could be exposed to one or more carcinogens at work. Despite this, historically, only 8% of workers obtain compensation for occupational diseases.
This low number of workers claiming compensation highlights the need to increase awareness of our rights when it comes to occupational diseases. This is both to improve access to compensation as well as recovery outcomes.
Identifying the source of exposure is crucial in occupational disease claims. A lawyer can investigate the cause of the exposure, whether due to workplace hazards or environmental factors and advise you on your potential compensation entitlements.
The most common exposures and/or occupations that contribute to and/or increase the risk of occupational diseases include:
|Disease||Occupation||Exposure or agent|
|Asbestosis||Any work that involves exposure to asbestos||Asbestos|
|Any work that involves exposure to asbestos||Asbestos|
|Lung cancer||Construction trade workers, welders, electricians, stonemasons, sandblasters, and dental technicians.||Asbestos, welding fumes, silica dust, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, diesel fumes, Ionizing radiation, nickel, soot and Arsenic.|
|Mining, sandblasting, rock drilling and agriculture.||Coal, asbestos, silica dust.|
|Sarcoidosis||Mining, construction , stonemasonry, agricultural, firefighters, lumbar work, and tunnel construction.||Silica dust, metal fumes, insecticides, wood dust and mould.|
|Lupus||Stonemasons, mining, construction, tunnel work and quarrying.||Silica dust|
|Silicosis||Mining, stonemasonry, construction work and tunnelling.||Silica dust|
|Scleroderma||Mining, pottery, construction, foundry, welding and stonemasonry.||Silica dust, organic solvents such as paint thinners, glue, solvents, and dry-cleaning products and welding fumes.|
|Occupational asthma||Various occupations including manufacturing, construction and agriculture.||Sensitising agents or irritants – arthropods, dust mites, mould, flour, sensitising foods, latex, wood dust, paint fumes, solvents and cleaning agents.|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)||Agriculture, brick making, mining, dock workers, petroleum workers, stonemasons, textiles, welders and quarrying.||Cadmium dust, cadmium fumes, grain and flour dust, mineral dust, organic dusts, silica dust and welding fumes.|
|Nasal-pharynx||Sawmill workers, timber workers, arborists, joiners, pulp mill workers. Embalmers, pathology and laboratory worker and formaldehyde/resin manufacturing.||Wood dust and formaldehyde.|
|Hypersensitivity pneumonitis||Cheese manufacturers, laboratory workers, sugar manufacturers, bakers, farmers, malt and beer brewery workers and cattle workers.||Mould, bacteria, bird droppings, bird feathers, chemicals from paints or plastics, grain dust, malt dust and wheat, epoxy resins and enzyme detergent.|
|Nasal cancer||Carpentry, shoemakers, metal workers, wood workers, tanneries and working with industrial chemicals.||Ionizing radiation, leather dust, nickel and wood dust.|
|Bladder cancer||Painters, machinists, printers, hairdressers and truck drivers.||2-naphthylamine, benzidine and diesel fumes.|
|Byssinosis||Farming and textiles||Cotton, flax, hemp and sisal dust.|
|Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP)||Boilermaker and boat-building||Aluminium dust|
If you have worked in a workplace where you have been exposed to toxic substances and are concerned you may be at risk, it’s important to get a medical examination. Book in to see your GP and inform them of your occupation and exposure levels.
Any person who works in industries with exposure to dust, chemicals and/or gasses should get regular medical examinations and be monitored for signs and symptoms of disease.
Exposure to toxic substances can have severe health consequences and those affected deserve to be compensated for their losses which can include compensation for loss of wages, medical and other expenses, and pain and suffering.
It is essential to get legal advice to help you understand your rights and options if you have been diagnosed with a disease that your work contributed to and/or increased the risk of you developing.
At Maurice Blackburn, we have a specialised team of lawyers that offer free first consultations and can assist you - no win, no fee - in relation to any workplace disease claim you may have. You can contact our workplace diseases team on 1800 991 692.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.