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Pneumoconiosis is the name given to a set of incurable lung diseases that are brought on by the inhalation of dust particles of different types.

For example, if coal dust is inhaled over a long period of time it can result in a condition known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. Lung disease caused by silica dust, on the other hand, is known as silicosis.

The conditions are similar in that they all result in inflammation and scarring to the lungs, as the body tries to deal with and get rid of the inhaled dust. Chest pain, persistent coughs and shortness of breath are common symptoms, and these can lead to further complications.


As there are a number of types of dust that can cause pneumoconiosis, this means that there are certain industries which are more at risk of causing the disease than others. Mining and quarrying are amongst the jobs where workers are most at risk of developing the disease, but other jobs and industries may also pose a risk to workers' health:

  • Jobs relating to asbestos and asbestos removal
  • Construction
  • Potteries
  • Foundries and other jobs relating to metal working
  • Fabric manufacturing
  • Sand-blasting
  • Ship-building
  • Stone cutting

Because pneumoconiosis takes a long time to become symptomatic – possibly taking up to 40 years for some conditions to be diagnosed – it is only now that we are seeing the results of poor working conditions in the past.

The good news is that the rules relating to workers' health and safety have tightened considerably over the years, and the number of new cases of pneumoconiosis is expected to fall in the future. In fact, some specific forms of the disease have already experienced a significant drop. 

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the number of coal workers' pneumoconiosis cases appeared to peak over a decade ago (reaching more than 1,000 cases per year during 2002-2004) and has now plateaued at around 200-300 cases annually over the last five years.

Because dust can be so hazardous to the health of their workers, employers are required by law to ensure that their employees are exposed to them as little as possible.

The most important set of rules in this area is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). You can find out more about COSHH in the work accident section of this website.

As a general rule, however, if you were negligently exposed to a substance that caused you to develop pneumoconiosis, you could be entitled to compensation.


Pneumoconiosis causes vary and the type of pneumoconiosis induced will be dependent on what type of dust is continuously inhaled by the sufferer. Dusts that can cause the illness include the following:

  • Asbestos dust – This leads to asbestosis, a chronic condition caused by damage that occurs over time after inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres.
  • Coal dust – This causes a particular type known as black lung disease, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis.
  • Silica dust – This will cause silicosis, one of the most predominant forms. It is found in rocks, sand, and clay.
  • Cotton and other fibres – Breathing in cotton can lead to byssinosis, or brown lung.
  • Iron – Siderosis, more commonly known as welder's lung, is caused by iron particles lodging in the lings
  • Beryllium – This can lead to a rare form of the disease known as berylliosis. Symptoms have been known to develop after just one instance of exposure, making beryllium a particularly dangerous substance.
  • Kaolin – Found in china clay, this substance leads to kaolin pneumoconiosis.
  • Graphite – This can also cause black lung disease.

A few other substances have been found to cause pneumoconiosis if inhaled over a long period of time. These include:

  • Mould spores (from barley and hay, for example)
  • Diacetyl (which is added to some types of popcorn)


Pneumoconiosis symptoms are generated by the body's reaction to the continuous inhalation of certain types of dust particles over a number of years.The dust irritates the tissues of the lung, causing inflammation. Over time, this inflammation results in scarring, and this in turn hardens the affected tissues. As this process happens, a number of symptoms will gradually develop.

The symptoms that you develop will largely depend on the type of pneumoconiosis you have. 

Pneumoconiosis signs and symptoms are varied and can include:

  • Shortness of breath (possibly due to emphysema)
  • A chronic cough – with an increased risk of contracting chronic bronchitis
  • Tiredness
  • Black sputum – predominantly associated with coal workers' pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease.
  • Chest pain – sufferers often experience tightness

Severe cases, where there is a lot of scarring to the lungs, can lead to even more serious Pneumoconiosis signs and symptoms. These may also be a sign that the pneumoconiosis has developed into progressive massive fibrosis, a complication where there is a large mass of dense fibrosis in the lungs:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Problems with the heart – caused by pressure inside the lungs

Usually there is a long period between the time of the exposure to the dust particles and the onset of the symptoms. It can take as long as 40 years in some cases, meaning that in the early stages of the disease it's possible to not suffer any symptoms whatsoever.

This is why, if you do start to experience the above symptoms, your doctor will probably ask you about your employment history to see if you were ever employed in one of the industries at risk of pneumoconiosis.


So what are the correct pneumoconiosis treatment drugs? If you think that you are suffering from pneumoconiosis – perhaps you have experienced a sudden onset of several associated respiratory disease symptoms – you should make an appointment with your doctor without delay. They will be able to prescribe the correct pneumoconiosis treatment for you, and to refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Unfortunately, if your pneumoconiosis has developed sufficiently to cause permanent scarring of your lungs, this can never be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. You will undoubtedly be advised to avoid any further exposure to the dust that has caused your condition in the first place. If you smoke, you should make every effort to stop as this will make your condition worse.  

You may also be prescribed medicines to help with your breathing. In severe cases, you may need to undergo oxygen therapy to help stop levels of oxygen in your bloodstream dropping below 90%.

If you suffer from pneumoconiosis, then colds, flu, and other respiratory infections will have more of an impact on you than other people. You are therefore likely to require annual flu vaccinations and are very likely to be prescribed antibiotics whenever you contract such an infection.


Thompsons Solicitors is the leading personal injury legal firm in the country. We have a specialist Lung Disease team, dedicated to fighting for the rights of people who have been negligently exposed to materials such as coal dust or asbestos.

Thinking about a compensation claim? Talk to an expert on 0800 0891 331.

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