The relation between occupational exposure to dust and loss of ventilatory lung function is now well established. However, many exposures during work and other activities might also have important roles in determining clinically important losses of lung function. In this study, we attempted to explore additional plausible determinants of exposures and other potential risk factors for clinically important decline in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) during work in dusty trades. METHODS: The study was performed in 264 underground coal miners whose lung function had been followed up for an average of 11 years. With an extensive follow up questionnaire, miners were asked about their occupational and non-occupational exposures, smoking, personal and family medical history, and living conditions during childhood. RESULTS: Several variables of the mine environment (as well as previously recognized effects of mining work and region) were found to be associated with excess decline in FEV1, including work in roof bolting, exposure to explosive blasting, and to control dust spraying water that had been stored in holding tanks. Use of respiratory protection seemed to reduce the risk of decline in FEV1. Other factors that were found to be associated with declines in pulmonary function included smoking, body mass, weight gain, childhood pneumonia, and childhood exposure in the home to passive tobacco smoke and possibly smoke due to wood and coal fuels. Miners with excessive decline in FEV1 were less likely to be working in mining jobs at follow up. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest the existence of additional risk factors for decline in lung function in dusty trades, and may be useful in developing additional approaches to the prevention of chronic respiratory disease.