Diseases that have the ability to harm your most vital organs, the organs which give you the ability to live should not be taken lightly. It is often thought that respiratory illnesses only effect the lungs; however, if not treated in time, some of these diseases (often the cancerous forms) can spread to the heart and brain (Falanga et al.).

From 2016 to 2019, work-related respiratory illnesses in the U.S. averaged at 11,000+ workers (see table 1). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the count went up by 4,000 percent to an overwhelming 428,700 people. This staggering increase in illness was most likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below is table 1, a graph of work-related illnesses documented in the U.S. from 2016 to 2020 sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Respiratory illness vs illness graph from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Because respiratory illnesses are so dangerous and often life-threatening, it is better to prevent rather than treat. Prevention is a key to lowering the cases of work-related respiratory illnesses. One major prevention tactic is implementing respirators in the workplace. Respirators come in multiple forms and each one has is used for different situations, with the intention of protecting the respiratory system.

There are several types of respirators—full face respirators, half face respirators etc.—and brands that make them. Brands like 3M Peltor which makes the 3M respirator, qualified as an OSHA respirator, are on our list.

We will be discussing the different types, brands, how to use them, and more. Read this article to learn all about the different sides of respirators and how they can be used to protect the future of your lungs.

The risks of lung disease in the workplace:

The risks of contracting a lung disease in the workplace are high, but what does the phrase “work-related respiratory illness” refer to? This phrase is a large umbrella term for a variety of lung diseases that vary in severity and impact on quality of life. A lung disease or respiratory illness can range from asthma which can be a mild to severe illness to lung cancer.

According to a medical study called “Work-Related Lung Diseases” by Philip Harber MD, MPH, Carrie A. Redlich, MD, MPH, and Paul K. Henneberger, MPH, ScDhe, the most common work-related respiratory illnesses include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Interstitial or fibrotic lung disease
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Lung infections
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans/airway destruction


What make a lung disease “work related” or caused by the workplace and not an outside source?

What makes the illnesses listed above considered “work-related”? Often the only way to damage the lungs and contract these illnesses aside from genetics is from repeated, long-term exposure, or a severe single exposure to a hazardous agent (“Occupational Lung Diseases.”). If the exposure to this hazardous agent occurs in the workplace, then the disease that follows was caused in and by the workplace.

Some who are worried about work-related lung disease question how smokers can differentiate between lung disease caused by smoking or work-related exposure. According to Hopkins Medicine, “Smoking can increase both the severity of an occupational lung disease and the risk of lung cancer”. But smoking cannot be considered an occupational cause unless it is someone who contracted a respiratory illness from secondhand smoke exposure while working.

What are the symptoms of an occupational lung disease?

In an article about occupational lung diseases provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine, if workers who experience the symptoms listed below, they should get checked for an occupational lung disease:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Abnormal breathing pattern

To confirm if there is a lung disease, what kind of illness, and how it was caused, doctors perform a variety of tests. It is these tests that will concretely determine if the illness should be marked as an occupational disease. Therefore, smokers who are also put in dangerous situations for their lungs in the workplace can rely on doctors’ tests to confirm if any illness they contract was caused by the smoking or workplace exposure.

Who is at risk of developing a work-related lung disease?

In “Work-Related Lung Diseases”, written by highly acclaimed doctors in their fields of expertise, the doctors determined that anyone who works outside of their home is at risk for work-related lung diseases. Often those who work in an office, school or hospital are exposed to dust, cleaning agents, mold, and more which can lead to asthma or worse (Harber et al.).

On the other hand, industrial jobs, have even higher risk of contracting a respiratory illness and often one much more life-threatening than asthma. Stated by the CDC, those who are exposed to the following raw materials are at risk of contracting lung disease from the workplace:

  • Coal mine dust
  • Silica
  • Asbestos
  • Flock
  • Beryllium
  • BCME
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Metals: Arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel, polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Nanoparticles

How to prevent work-related respiratory illnesses?

Prevention is the goal of every healthcare worker when it comes to any illness because it is always much easier to treat a serious disease the earlier it is caught. Moreover, it is always better to prevent a disease rather than treat, both in terms of quality of life and economics.

The first form of prevention is decreasing a worker’s exposure to the hazardous agent that will potentially cause or already has caused illnesses. This sometimes comes in the form of short shifts for certain duties so there isn’t one worker consistently exposed to the hazard, rather it is many workers exposed for very short periods of time.

This may be an effective short-term solution, but it will be draining for workers’ schedules in the long-term and economically challenging as it will require employees to wear a variety of hats; therefore, they will demand higher pay.

The most effective and efficient way to prevent work-related lung disease is by supplying the proper safety equipment and the knowledge on usage. Respirators will help prevent these dangerous diseases that too many Americans come home with as a result of simply providing for their family.

Technology like full face respirators, half face respirators, and more can help keep manufacturers, construction workers, aviation crews, and more stay safe from hazardous agents.

How can respirators prevent lung disease in the workplace:

The U.S. government has not turned a blind eye to the staggering number of American workers who suffer from work-related lung diseases. Consequently, most workplaces that are directly exposed to dangerous materials are required to use respirators in accordance with the expectations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA.

Respirators work to remove contaminants from the air to keep the user’s respiratory system clean. There are a few different types of respirators—the most popular two are particulate respirators and air-purifying respirators. Particulate respirators filter out airborne particles; whereas, air-purifying respirators use cartridges and canisters to filter out chemicals and gases.

Because of the difference between these two main respirators, it is important that a respirator user knows what they are protecting themselves from before choosing the proper equipment. To learn more about the different types of OSHA respirators and respirator protection, check out our infographic below.

The Main Types of Respiratory Protection Masks

Overall, respirators are used to prevent inhalation of harmful or hazardous chemicals and agents that can cause a variety of serious health problems including but not limited to lung diseases.

Available Options:

In addition to the different types of respirators available, there are also different styles for fitting the face and situation. There are three main styles—half face, full face, and respirator helmets. For proper respirator protection, the user must determine the situation in which they will be using the respirator.

If the user is in a position where attention to visual detail is a must and they rely on glasses, they may want to consider a half face respirator. Although there are full face respirators that are glasses compatible, for someone who makes a living from seeing detail, they may prefer no visual obstructions.

Full face respirators are optimal for those who are being exposed to hazardous agents in a gas form that can also negatively impact their vision. With a full-face respirator, from the top of your forward do to your neck or more will be protected and concealed.

Another option available that will protect your whole face and more are the respirator helmets. This equipment is useful for those who need to have easy and clear communication while working with a respirator. Often respirator helmets also provide two-way critical communication technology. These are typically preferred by the military because it is a three-way form of protection: respirator, communication, and helmet.

To learn more about the different options, check out our other respirator articles to continue furthering your knowledge of lung disease prevention


There are many brands that produce great respirators, but First Source Wireless’ top picks are 3M Peltor, Honeywell, and Gentex. These brands are reputable in a diverse range of equipment. Each brand creates valuable respirators that will protect the users—these brands understand the importance of this type of equipment.

3M Peltor is a company that prioritizes science to create their leading technology. 3M started as a “small-scale mining venture in Northern Minnesota”; therefore, you can trust that 3M Peltor knows all too well the respiratory dangers of industrial work. That is why they create multiple forms of 3M respirators including the 3M full face respirator.

Similarly, Honeywell started over a century ago with the invention of the furnace regulator and alarm from inventor Albert Butz. Honeywell has the ability to create multifaceted and trustworthy equipment, including Honeywell respirators, from its storied company history.

Lastly, Gentex is a company that was made to create tactical equipment, including respirators, for military units. This is a company you can trust will make durable respirators for the most dire situations.


Costs for respirators tend to fluctuate for a few reasons: the type of respirator, the style, and the situation. For an air-purifying respirator, you will need to factor in the cost of the specific filters, canisters, or cartridges you may need to make the respirator effective. These items can cost $20+ per cartridge etc.

The style also impacts the price. Full face respirators and respirator helmets cost more because they often come with more bells and whistles compared to the half face respirators. These types of respirators often come with two-way communications capabilities. With the ability to connect to a two-way radio, the user can communicate clearly with other users which adds to the safety of using a respirator.

The higher-end respirators tend to range between $250-$400+. This cost may seem high; however, this upfront expense for OSHA respirators is much lower than the average hospital visit. It is always better to prevent rather than treat.

Effectiveness of disease prevention:

When considering disease prevention—whether this is lung cancer or COVID-19, it is all about the type of filter that is being used in the mask. Moreover, the fit of the mask is very important.

Once the proper mask is chosen—particulate respirator or air purifying respirator—the next thing to consider is the fit. Many OSHA respirators have silicone on the edges to help form to the user’s face to make sure there is a perfect fit. Without a perfect fit, the hazardous agent can get

Preventing Lung Disease in the Workplace

behind the respirator without going through the proper filters/pipes making the mask utterly useless.

Respiratory illnesses are serious and should be treated as such. Just like any life-threatening illnesses it is always best to prevent rather than treat and address. Prevention is the key to lowering work-related respiratory illnesses.

Respirators from 3M Peltor, Gentex, or Honeywell are all great contenders for preventing lung diseases. Without the proper protection, America’s workers are at risk for contracting serious illnesses and becoming a statistic.

Proper equipment like respirators provide protection for workers’ future health.

Works Cited

“Employer-reported respiratory illnesses increase nearly 4,000 percent in 2020.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 05 Nov. 2021, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/employer-reported-respiratory-illnesses-increase-nearly-4000-percent-in-2020.

Falanga, Gabriella, et al. “Extension to the Heart of Metastatic Lung Cancer Presenting as Acute Neurological Syndrome: The Key Role of Echocardiology.” Journal of Cardiovascular Echography, vol. 23, no. 3, Jul-Sep. 2014.

Harber, Phillip, et al. “Work-Related Lung Diseases.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, vol. 193, no. 2, 15 Jan. 2016.

“Occupational Lung Diseases.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/occupational-lung-diseases.

“Respiratory Health Program: Occupational Risks.” National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/programs/resp/risks.html.

“Respiratory Protection.” United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/respiratory-protection.

Gentex SOTR Respirator vs Avon m50 Respirator

DEANNA PARENTI is a Marketing Copywriter at Waveband Communications. With her experience in critical communications, she helps public safety clients enhance their team communications during everyday work and emergencies.

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