Mortality from non-malignant respiratory diseases among people with silicosis in Hong Kong: exposure–response analyses for exposure to silica dust

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To examine the exposure–response relationships between various indices of exposure to silica dust and the mortality from non-malignant respiratory diseases (NMRDs) or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPDs) among a cohort of workers with silicosis in Hong Kong.


The concentrations of respirable silica dust were assigned to each industry and job task according to historical industrial hygiene measurements documented previously in Hong Kong. Exposure indices included cumulative dust exposure (CDE) and mean dust concentration (MDC). Penalised smoothing spline models were used as a preliminary step to detect outliers and guide further analyses. Multiple Cox’s proportional hazard models were used to estimate the dust effects on the risk of mortality from NMRDs or COPDs after truncating the highest exposures.


371 of the 853 (43.49%) deaths occurring among 2789 workers with silicosis during 1981–99 were from NMRDs, and 101 (27.22%) NMRDs were COPDs. Multiple Cox’s proportional hazard models showed that CDE (p = 0.009) and MDC (p<0.001) were significantly associated only with NMRD mortality. Subgroup analysis showed that deaths from NMRDs (p<0.01) and COPDs (p<0.05) were significantly associated with both CDE and MDC among underground caisson workers and among those ever employed in other occupations with high exposure to silica dust. No exposure–response relationship was observed for surface construction workers with low exposures. A clear upward trend for both NMRDs and COPDs mortality was found with increasing severity of radiological silicosis.


This study documented an exposure–response relationship between exposure to silica dust and the risk of death from NMRDs or COPDs among workers with silicosis, except for surface construction workers with low exposures. The risk of mortality from NMRDs increased significantly with the progression of International Labor Organization categories, independent of dust effects.

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