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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Last updated: April 4, 2019

What Does Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Mean?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term used to describe an array of progressive lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Individuals with COPD receive less airflow due to a deterioration in lung quality and lung congestion. COPD is characterized by increasing levels of breathlessness over time and can take years to develop. Exposure to occupational hazards found in many workplaces is a major contributing factor to the development of COPD. COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the world. It is also a major cause of disability and can inhibit the ability of individuals to perform tasks in the workplace.

Safeopedia Explains Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Relevant scientific literature indicates that approximately 15% of all cases of COPD are work-related. Risk factors include occupational exposure to certain dusts, chemicals, and gasses. Agriculture workers, grain workers, mine workers, tunnel workers, petroleum workers, welders, and other industrial workers are linked to an increased risk of developing COPD. COPD is an incurable chronic disease, and workers suffering from COPD due to exposure to occupational hazards will continue to suffer from airflow limitations once exposure is discontinued.

Employee protection regulations related to COPD fall under general occupational exposure regulations. The UK Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations require employers to assess and limit worker exposures to hazardous substances that pose a health risk. If a substance is known to be specifically associated with COPD (e.g. cadmium), employers may be required to conduct health surveillance in order to comply with COSHH regulations. COPD is one of the many diseases targeted by an OSHA rule to protect workers from exposure to silica dust, which took effect on June 23, 2016 and requires the introduction of engineering controls and lowered exposure limits in workplaces.


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