Occupational Disease. How much do you know?

Being a large and very important subject which I have found out from my research would be imposable to cover all areas in great detail so I intend to only briefly cover some of the many different areas of occupational related disease. As you read you will learn that occupational disease can be directly caused by the conditions of somebody’s work.

Musculoskeletal disease (MSD) is a term used to describe a number of different disorders that involve the joints and soft tissue involved in the movement of joints, it also involves the muscles ligaments and tendons. Some of the causes of this are poor posture, manual handling, vibrations given of by cetin types of tools and working in a cold environment.

The most common MSDs on a European level are that 30% of workers complain of back pain, 17% complain of pain in muscles of arms and legs. The people who are most at risk from MSD are manual workers both skilled and unskilled who work in areas like agriculture, manufacturing, machine operators and construction workers.

Vibration white finger (VWF) can also affect this category of worker. This is a disorder that affects the supply of blood to the fingers and hand when this happens the fingers go white then blue and finally red as the blood supply is reduced. The pain is at its most severe when the fingers are red as the blood supply starts to return. VWF is usually caused by regular use of vibrating hand tools. Some suffers may have permanent loss of sensation in their fingers, resulting in difficulty in picking up and manipulating small objects.

Stress in the work place is an area that is sometimes over looked probably because it is misunderstood and not picked up on by employers. Because stress has no outward physical signs an employer might be forgiven for think the employee was having an off day. If stress goes unchecked it will most certainly lead to ill-health like anxiety, irritability and hart disease in some cases it can lead to depression. Other problems can lead on from this like absenteeism poor motivation and reduce productivity. There are many causes for stress related illness in the work place like a dull repetive job, lack of control or input into a job, lack of promotion and poor working conditions to name but a few. It is of utmost importance the management monitor staff for stress related illnesses and support them where necessary trough some sort of support program.

Noise induced hearing loss can result form over exposure to noise in the work place. This can happen as a result of long term exposure to noise or as a result of a sudden bang or loud explosion like in quarrying or the operation of heavy equipment. If the noise is prolonged and over 85db it is known to produce hearing damage. Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus this is a buzzing or ringing sensation that can only be heard by the suffer, to explain it better  people who suffer from tinnitus can never hear silence because when they are in a surrounding that is quite this is when the tinnitus is at its worst. As a general rule if you have to shout to be heard in the work place then the noise is already too loud and should be measured by a noise meter to document the noise level. Forty per cent of people who work all their lives at high noise levels find it difficult to hear a normal conversation. It is worth noting that as a result of this the failure of the department of defence to issue proper hearing protection to it members over many years will eventually cost the Irish tax payer an estimated €300 million in compensation claims.


Occupational lung disease over the years has caused many deaths in Ireland. To understand how the lungs are affected we must first know how they work. The main function of the lungs is to allow oxygen to be taking into the blood and allows carbon dioxide to be exhaled out. This happens in small air sacks called alveoli these are supplied with air by way of the bronchial tree this consists of the trachea or windpipe which is divided into small air passages called bronchioles. The main areas than can be affected in the lungs are the air passage, alveoli and pleura. The pleura or lung lining is the area of the lungs that can be affected by a special cancer called mesothelioma which is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. There is usually a latent period of approx 20 to 50 years between the exposure and the development of lung cancer but this disease is now rear in Ireland & Great Brittan.

The Air passage can be effected by asthma this reversible airways obstruction caused by the inhalation of certain allergy-causing chemicals found in the work place. This causes the muscles in the walls of the airway to contract producing extra mucous which slows down the flow of air trough the alveoli. This can result in wheezing coughing and breathlessness it often comes at night or at work but can improve at weekends or holidays. There are many other antigens that can cause lung disease such as cotton fibres, bird faeces and spores of thermophilic actinomycetes in the dust of humid warm hay causing farmers lung. Also the inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke in the work place that contains more than 50 known carcinogenetic is a significant risk and is an other cause of lung cancer. The international scientific community and the world health organisation agree that environmental tobacco smoke kills.

Dermatitis is a conation that becomes more common as people get older. There are two types direct contact this comes in the form of a rash that occurs at the point of contact on the skin often as a result of exposure to cretin chemicals and more often than not on the hands as this is the area of the body that is more often exposed. The other type of dermatitis is called allergic contact this often happens as a result of exposure to an allergen that sensitises the immune system any further contact with the allergen can cause the rash to develop on other areas of the body. Other symptoms can be the scaling and thickening of the skin and itching where the skin has come in contact with a [articulate allergen. Workers in cretin occupations can be prone to contact dermatitis hairdressing, interior decorators, nursing and building workers. Common allergens are chromate, formaldehyde, nickel, thiurams and plants.

In conclusion it would suggest that in the area of occupational disease that employers and employees should do all in their powers to ensure that when they are either working with dangerous materials and or dangerous substances that they observe all relevant safety information and comply with all safety statements relating to there particular area of work. The same applies to manufactures and suppliers that all machinery and chemicals should comply with all relevant technical standards and be safe to work with and use in the work place.

I hope that this little piece of research will have given you a small insight into the many different types of occupational diseases. Be safe out there.

Martin Denny Grad IOSH

Reference List

HAS Guide to making your company safe

Manual Certificate in Safety and Health at Work















Martin Denny

Centre: DKIT







Essay: Occupational Disease

Certificate in Safety and Health at Work

Tutor: Eugene Hughes