Exposure to dust and respiratory health among Australian miners
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Purpose: Occupational exposure to dust has been recognised as a significant health hazard to mine workers. This study aimed to investigate the association between exposure to inhalable (INH) and respirable (RES) dust and respiratory health among mine workers in Western Australia using an industry-wide exposure database.
Methods: The database comprised cross-sectional surveys conducted by mining companies for the period 2001–2012. The study population consisted of 12,797 workers who were monitored for exposure to INH and RES dust and undertook health assessments including a respiratory questionnaire and spirometry test.
Results: Despite the general trend of declining exposure to both INH and RES dust observed over the 12 years period, mine workers reported a higher prevalence of phlegm and cough when exposed to elevated concentrations of INH and RES dust. Logistic regression analysis further confirmed the positive association between INH dust exposure and the prevalence of phlegm with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.033 (95% CI 1.012–1.052). Overall, 6.3% of miners might have potential airway obstruction, and exposure to INH dust was associated with impaired lung function parameters.
Conclusion: Exposure levels of INH and RES dust particles among mine workers have reduced considerably and were well below currently legislated occupational exposure limits. However, given the reported higher prevalence of phlegm and cough among those with elevated dust concentrations, there is a continued need for effective dust exposure monitoring and control in the mineral mining industry.
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