The A to Z of Occupational Diseases

Being forewarned is being forearmed according to the old adage, and there’s no doubt that being made aware of something’s existence before you’re exposed to a certain situation puts anyone in a more advantageous position.

So by this token, you’d rather be in the loop about just what types of occupational disease could pose a potential threat to your health and general wellbeing PRIOR to finding yourself in a scenario where possible danger lurks, wouldn’t you?

Of course, you would, which is precisely why we’ve compiled this A – Z of occupational diseases so you can familiarise yourself with the predominant examples so you know what’s what and more importantly, how potentially risky ‘what’ is, when privy to it up close and personal.

What is Occupational Disease?

An occupational disease (or disorder) is a disease which is caused by the nature of the work itself or the working conditions which an employee is exposed to on a routine basis as part and parcel of their role.

Not that anyone would wittingly accept going through the daily motions - which is known to result in possible ill-health and even a premature demise in some cases - if they had even an inkling that they were regularly placing themselves in imminent (or indeed, more long-term) danger by carrying out these duties; and more pertinently, surrounded by the often unseen substances and/or other silent killers in their vocational midst.

The way the laws of the land recognise the presence of occupational disease is thus: It must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the disease MUST have been triggered/developed due to an employee being exposed in their workplace to such hazardous substances/levels of noise/repetitive tasks, and that the correlation between the exposures and the disease is well known in terms of medical research.

It must be identified as highly unlikely that the disease suffered by someone claiming to have an occupational disease was caused by factors other than/outside of a specific work (and acknowledged work environment).

Effectively once there is adequate medical documentation available to determine that a particular disease is caused by a certain exposure, it’s a legal requirement that notification of that disease is included on the occupational disease list. This official list consists of a comprehensive run-down of all work-related diseases and disorders which are universally recognised as industrial injuries as such; in direct relation to an individual employee having experienced certain exposures in their work environs.

This compendium of occupational disease examples is constantly subject to timely reviews and subsequent revisions so that it takes into account findings from the most recent research, an on-going task which is undertaken by the HSE. Its research is vital in order for injured parties to have the legally-obliging platform in which to pursue a personal injury claim, with the aim of seeking/being awarded financial damages and fiscal compensation; and any other benefits as a consequence of an occupational disease being medically diagnosed previously.

The ways in which an occupational disease is officially identified is typically two-fold and is explained as follows. Should the disease in question (and the exposure causing said/alleged disease) be cited on the list of occupational diseases, the disease is duly recognised, however in the event of it not figuring on this list it’s still possible to have acknowledgement granted by medical and employment safety organisations if these parties provide recommendations which fervently suggest that the manifestation of the disease itself was caused by special factors in the employee’s workplace.

So now we understand what the definition of an occupational disease is, we can take a look at the primary and repeat offenders discovered in a multitude of everyday employment surrounds. Naturally, many employers might already be aware of (and have been adhering to/implementing the rules, regulations and the legal obligations pertaining to protocol, practice and procedure for some considerable time) Health and Safety Executive governance on a wide-ranging group of work-based diseases, yet irrespective of this it’s never too late to familiarise yourself with the predominant threats to our collective health in the workplace.

A–Z of Occupational Diseases


Asbestos-related diseases which predominantly affect the lungs and include, Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, Lung Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Testes Cancer, Pleural plaques, Pleural thickening, Pleural effusion. 

Occupational Asthma is a condition that comes about when an individual is subjected to the inhalation of certain irritants within their place of work.


Bronchopulmonary diseases caused by hard-metal dust, Bronchopulmonary diseases caused by dust of cotton (byssinosis), flax, hemp, sisal or sugar cane (bagassosis)


Caisson’s Disease (adverse effects related to commercial diving and compressed air work),

Cancers caused directly by exposure to toxic and or chemical substances along with any other harmful materials, including the following; Arsenic, Asbestos, Benzene, Bisphenol A (BPA), Chromium Hexavalent compounds, Dioxins, Formaldehyde, Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), Polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Vinyl Chloride (also see ‘Diseases’ below for more examples)

Chromium Poisoning - People can be exposed to chromium toxicity in a number of ways.  Chromium is used in the manufacturing process for paints, pottery and ceramics and in the drying process for silk and wool.


Diseases caused by chemical agents such as; beryllium, cadmium, phosphorus, chromium, manganese, arsenic, mercury, lead, fluorine, carbon disulphide, halogen derivatives of aliphatic or aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene or its homologues, nitroglycerine or other nitric acid esters, alcohols, glycols or ketones, pharmaceutical agents, mineral acids, nickel, thallium, osmium, copper, platinum, tin, zinc, phosgene, ammonia, pesticides, sulphur oxides, latex, chlorine (or any of the their compounds).


Epicondylitis (due to repetitive forceful work), Environmental Sensitivity (environmental hypersensitivity, multiple chemical sensitivity, 20th-century disease, sick building syndrome, odour intolerance e.g. perfume, mould exposure, etc)


Farmer’s Lung (a type of pneumonitis caused by an allergic reaction to spores in mouldy hay)




Hearing impairments caused by noise (also known as Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, NIHL occurs when working environments routinely emit decibels higher than those permitted by existing employment/HSE laws and sustains these volumes for prolonged periods of time)


Industrial fatigue (refers to both mental and physical exhaustion resulting from performing required work-related activities that leads to a diminished capacity for performing the work. Generally attributed to poor working conditions or demanding job requirements




Keratitis (or over-exposure to UV radiation equipment and/or materials)


Lyme Disease (Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks)

Leukaemia and Lymphoma (especially among operating room personnel due to exposure to anaesthetics)


Musculoskeletal disorders (describing injuries or pain) in the body's joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, and structures that support limbs, neck and back. MSDs are degenerative diseases and inflammatory conditions that cause pain and impair normal activities


Neurological disorders (Toxic autonomic neuropathy by esters, vinyl chloride, unsaturated aliphatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and vibration for example)


Optical (diseases caused by exposure to ultraviolet, visible light, infrared and radiations including laser)

Organophosphate Poisoning- Those who work in the agricultural sector are more at risk of organophosphate poisoning, especially those that use sheep dips or harvest and pack crops.


Pneumoconioses caused by fibrogenic mineral dust (silicosis, anthraco-silicosis, asbestosis), Poisoning (please read ‘Diseases’ above for causes, which includes amongst other examples, poisoning by lead, its alloys or compounds and their sequelae, poisoning by mercury, its amalgams and compounds and their sequelae and Anthrax infection)


Q Fever, or Coxiella Burnetii is caught from domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats) or more rarely through tick bites, also known as Equine Encephalomyelitis and which effects any occupation that involves the handling of horses, cattle and sheep, or their slaughter and meat packing


Respiratory diseases (the term lung disease refers to many disorders affecting the lungs, such as asthma, COPD, infections like influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis, lung cancer, and many other breathing problems),

Repetitive Strain Injuries
(including Radial styloid tenosynovitis due to repetitive movements, forceful exertions and extreme postures of the wrist)


Skin diseases (such as contact dermatitis or eczema, contact urticarial (see below), acne and folliculitis, pigmentation changes, skin cancer, skin infections.

Acute and Chronic Silicosis are incurable diseases, with symptoms including rapid breathing, a productive cough, fever, chest pain, the appearance of ridges on the finger and toenails and in severe cases, sufferers may notice a blue tinge to the skin.


Tendonitis or tenosynovitis (typically presents in the hand or forearm, where the person’s work is physically demanding and involves frequent, repetitive movements; also commonly referred to as ‘Tennis Elbow’)


Urticaria – (or Contact Urticaria) brought on by prolonged use of latex (natural rubber) products, and is effectively a skin condition characterised by redness (erythema) and swellings. The swellings appear where the hazardous substance has come into contact with the skin


Vibration (otherwise known as Hand Arm Vibration or HAVS, Vibration white finger (VWF) is the most common condition among the operators of hand-held vibrating tools. Vibration can cause changes in tendons, muscles, bones and joints, and can affect the nervous system. Usually characterised by the gradual onset of whitening (blanching) of one or more fingers when exposed to cold, tingling and loss of sensation in the fingers, loss of light touch, pain and cold sensations between periodic white finger attacks, loss of grip strength or bone cysts in fingers and wrists),

Viral Hepatitis (potential danger among workers in close and frequent contact with (a) human blood products and with (b) a source of viral hepatitis by reason of employment in the medical treatment or nursing of a person or persons suffering from viral hepatitis, or in a service ancillary to such treatment or nursing)


Weill's disease (can occur when and where an occupation necessitates the handling of rats, mice, swine and dogs)







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