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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:

DiseaseOccupationExposure or agent
AsbestosisAny work that involves exposure to asbestosAsbestos


Any work that involves exposure to asbestosAsbestos
Lung cancerConstruction 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.
SarcoidosisMining, construction , stonemasonry, agricultural, firefighters, lumbar work, and tunnel construction.Silica dust, metal fumes, insecticides, wood dust and mould. 
LupusStonemasons, mining, construction, tunnel work and quarrying. Silica dust
SilicosisMining, stonemasonry, construction work and tunnelling. Silica dust
SclerodermaMining, pottery, construction,  foundry, welding and stonemasonry. Silica dust, organic solvents such as paint thinners, glue, solvents, and dry-cleaning products and welding fumes. 
Occupational asthmaVarious 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-pharynxSawmill 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 cancerCarpentry, shoemakers, metal workers, wood workers, tanneries and working with industrial chemicals.Ionizing radiation, leather dust, nickel and wood dust. 
Bladder cancerPainters, machinists, printers, hairdressers and truck drivers.2-naphthylamine, benzidine and diesel fumes.
ByssinosisFarming and textilesCotton, flax, hemp and sisal dust.
Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP)Boilermaker and boat-buildingAluminium dust

What should you do if you have been exposed to a toxic substance at work?

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.

Why you might need legal advice

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.


Learn more about our work in workplace disease compensation

Our dedicated workplace disease lawyers have significant experience in helping clients get compensation for occupational diseases caused by asbestos, silicadust exposure and more. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

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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.