Among the environmental causes of occupational disease are subjection to extremes of temperature (leading to heatstroke or frostbite), unusual dampness (causing diseases of the respiratory tract, skin, or muscles and joints) or changes in atmospheric pressure (causing decompression sickness, or the bends), excessive noise (see noise pollution), and exposure to infrared or ultraviolet radiation or to radioactive substances. The widespread use of X rays, radium, and materials essential to the production of nuclear power has led to an especial awareness of the dangers of radiation sickness; careful checking of equipment and the proper protection of all personnel are now mandatory.
In addition there are hundreds of industries in which metal dusts, chemical substances, and unusual exposure to infective substances constitute occupational hazards. The most common of the dust- and fiber-inspired disorders are the lung diseases caused by silica, beryllium, bauxite, and iron ore to which miners, granite workers, and many others are exposed (see pneumoconiosis) and those caused by asbestos.
Fumes, smoke, and toxic liquids from a great number of chemicals are other occupational dangers. Carbon monoxide, carbon tetrachloride, chlorine, creosote, cyanides, dinitrobenzene, mercury, lead, phosphorus, and nitrous chloride are but a few of the substances that on entering through the skin, respiratory tract, or digestive tract cause serious and often fatal illness.
Occupational hazards also are presented by infective sources. Persons who come into contact with infected animals in a living or deceased state are in danger of acquiring such diseases as anthrax and tularemia. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel are prime targets for the tuberculosis bacillus and for many other infectious organisms.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.