Breathe Freely: Defending Against Occupational Lung Disease

April 28, 2016

Each year, an estimated 13,000 workers die as a result of illnesses that were contracted or exacerbated by their work environments—nearly 5,000 of those deaths are a result of lung disease, and an additional 500 are the result of silica dust exposure. However, that does not even account for the 5,500 new occupational cancer diagnoses each year. To address the damaging, chronic risk of occupational lung disease in the construction industry, the BOHS and the Chartered Society for Worker Health, in partnership with the HSE, have launched Breathe Freely, a workplace health initiative.

Breathe Freely provides construction managers and supervisors with a collection of prevention and risk management tools, including specific trade fact sheets, case studies, a toolkit (which will be launched in November 2015) and a new Worker Health Protection Management Standard. The Breathe Freely initiative emphasises the following three tenets to help shield your employees from occupational lung disease:

1. Recognise the hazards and breathe freely. Ensure everyone at your organisation are aware of all the hazards which could lead to occupational lung disease, including:

a. Diesel exhaust fumes, silica dust, wood and other dusts, asbestos, welding fume, legionella and other biological agents, solvents and resin vapours/mists

2. Evaluate the risks and breathe freely. Your organisation should have the tools and knowledge necessary to evaluate the risks that lead to occupational lung disease. Even low-level exposures, which seem negligible at the time, can lead to debilitating or chronic diseases. Use the free resources provided by Breathe Freely to identify and evaluate the lung disease risks present on your work premises.

3. Control exposure and breathe freely. Now that you have recognised the hazards and evaluated the risks, you can work to control your workers’ exposure. This could involve sourcing different products, restructuring work methods, segregating work areas, and introducing better personal protective equipment.

By adhering to the new standard and supplementing with the other tools that Breathe Freely provides, managers and supervisors may be able to reduce the number of workers that contract lung disease and cancer. Not only would this strengthen the construction industry, but it would reduce the costs that are incurred as a result of absent workers.

If you would like to learn more about the Breathe Freely initiative, you can visit

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