We must work together to prevent occupational lung disease


Malcolm Shiels, chair of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health’s Construction Group, discusses the body’s support for the HSE’s Dustbuster campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of occupational lung disease and its own efforts to tackle work-related cancers

Have you ever sat in a taxi, on a train or on a bus next to or close to someone who has a rasping cough and seems to struggle for breath? An early thought that comes to mind, despite you trying not to be judgemental, might be: “Oh, that must be a smoker.”

But what if their cough is unrelated to smoking and is instead a result of diligently working all their life while exposed to substances, dust and vapours that have been harmful to their health, particularly their respiratory system?

In this scenario, their rasping cough or breathing problems are a grim result of workplace exposure to these life-threatening substances; due to a lack of care or thought by some of their employers – or maybe a lack of knowledge or awareness themselves – they are now suffering from the consequences. Now is an apt time to raise awareness of respiratory workplace matters, re-evaluate your safe systems of work, and maybe introduce some new initiatives.

The Health & Safety Executive recently carried out a Dustbuster inspection campaign from 17 June to 12 July across the UK. This campaign concentrated on industries such as construction, woodworking and food manufacturing where occupational lung diseases, including in some cases occupational cancers, are more common.

During the campaign, inspectors visited businesses across the country to see what measures have been put in place to protect workers’ lungs from the likes of asbestos and silica. The effects of these carcinogens and others on our health can develop over a long latency period and because of this, it isn’t always immediately apparent when workers are at risk during their day-to-day work. It is vital organisations have measures in place to ensure exposure does not occur and take preventative steps.

The HSE’s Dustbuster campaign is closely aligned with IOSH’s No Time to Lose (NTTL) campaign to help businesses take action against causes of occupational cancer. NTTL campaign phases have covered the dangers of silica dust and asbestos exposure and many organisations have pledged to support the campaign, most recently Co-op property.

Both No Time to Lose and Dustbuster contribute to increasing knowledge about the causes of occupational cancer and offer resources to help organisations and businesses to take action to reduce workplace exposure. Whether you’re an employer or employee, industry body or policymaker, safety and health professional or occupational hygienist, we all have a part to play if we want to call time on work-caused cancers.

Thousands of people die from work-related lung diseases every year, in many cases due to exposures that took place many years before. In the working environment – as managers or workers – we all have the power to do something about this. Get involved by reading the free materials available from the NTTL Resource Library and asking what your workplace is doing or is prepared to do to tackle occupational cancers.

Also consider joining the growing number of businesses leading on this issue. Get involved by providing a supporter statement, or sign the No Time to Lose pledge to show actions your company is taking.

It is important to involve others, start discussions and raise awareness. Don’t walk away – ignoring the issue affects everyone in the long-run. We must work together; only through our combined efforts can we prevent the horrendous effects of occupational lung disease.



Malcolm Shiels


Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH)

Construction Group

Tel: +44 (0)116 257 3100



Twitter: IOSH_tweets


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