Think that lung disease only happens to cigarette smokers? Think again. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 16,000 people die from job-related lung disease each year. Most types of these occupational lung disease are preventable by enforcing simple control measures to help reduce both exposure and the risk. Below are the top 10 fields that can be risky for your lung health:

Bartending and Waitressing
Secondhand smoke has long been linked to lung cancer, and one's going to wear a respirator while serving martinis. The biggest threat would be in cities where smoking hasn't been banned in public places.

Housekeeping and Cleaning

These cleaners contain "reactive chemicals," meaning that they react with dirt and also with your lung tissues. Some release volatile organic compounds, which can contribute to chronic respiratory problems and allergic reactions.

Health Care

Doctors, nurses, and other people who work in hospitals, medical offices, or nursing homes are at increased risk for lung diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Health care workers should always keep up with immunizations, including the flu vaccine, that the CDC recommends for health care workers.

Hair Styling

Certain hair-coloring agents can produce occupational asthma. Some salon hair-straightening products contain formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. It's also a strong eye, nose, throat, and lung irritant.

Factory workers risk getting asthma or making their existing asthma worse (i.e. work exacerbated asthma), which affects as many as 25% of adult asthmatics.  These workers are at risk of everything from inhaled metals in foundries to silica or fine sand, which can lead to scary lung diseases like silicosis (scarring of the lung) or increased risk of lung cancer. One lung disorder known as "popcorn lung" (bronchiolitis obliterans) was discovered in plant workers exposed to some of the flavoring chemicals used to make microwave popcorn.


The risk that comes with demolishing old buildings or remodeling for a living is asbestos, which is used as insulation around pipes or in floor tiles. Even minimal exposure to these microscopic fibers has been linked to a variety of problems: a form of cancer known as mesothelioma; an increased risk of small cell lung cancer; and asbestosis (scarring of the lung).


Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a rare but serious problem caused by repeated exposures to mold-contaminated grain or hay. The lung's air sacs become inflamed and may develop scar tissue. Grain stored in metal bins can sometimes get moldy, and breathing this dust can lead to fevers, chills, and a flu-like illness called "organic dust toxic syndrome." Symptoms include a cough and chest tightness.

Auto Body Spray Painting

People who work in auto body shops are often exposed to chemicals known as isocyanates. Immediate effects include eye and throat irritation, choking, shortness of breath, tightness of chest, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache and dermatitis. Continued exposure can lead to isocyanates sensitivity, where extremely low exposures to isocyanates can trigger an asthma like response, or a severe allergic reaction.


It's not only the fire that can kill ya. Burning materials like plastics and chemicals can significantly increase to chances of lung disease and other problems, which why many rely on "self-contained breathing apparatus" (SCBAs).

Coal mining

Underground miners are at risk for everything from bronchitis to pneumoconiosis, or "black lung." This is a chronic condition caused by inhaling coal dust that becomes embedded in the lungs, causing them to harden and make breathing very difficult. This can cause progressive massive fibrosis and can kill people.