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Soil, Potting Mix and Compost. The risks you may face at work.

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Soils, potting mix, and compost products typically contain basic ingredients, including water, gas, minerals, and organic matter. While these ingredients occur naturally in the environment, they provide a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus which can potentially cause rare illnesses, such as Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis.

If your occupation involves work with soil, potting mix, and/or compost, it is important to follow appropriate safety measures and monitor for any symptoms.

Legionnaire’s Disease

Legionnaire’s Diseases is a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling or aspirating legionella longbeachae, a naturally occurring bacteria commonly found in soil, potting mix, or compost.

Legionella longbeachae is not typically a health hazard, However, the ingredients and moisture in soil, potting mix, and compost promote the breeding of the bacteria.

Cases of Legionnaire’s disease must be reported to the Department of Health by medical practitioners and pathology services. There are approximately 500 cases reported across Australia each year.

What are the symptoms of Legionnaire’s Disease?

Symptoms of Legionnaire’s Disease tend to show two to ten days after exposure to the bacteria.

Symptoms typically resemble the flu and include:

  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry cough
  • Stomach pain

I work with soil. Am I at risk of contracting Legionnaire’s Disease?

Most people who inhale or aspirate legionella longbeachae do not fall ill. It is possible to unknowingly contract a mild form of Legionnaire’s Disease which increases the body’s immunity to future infection.

However, the risk of developing Legionnaire’s Disease increases with age. Most infections in Victoria occur in those over 50 years of age. Additionally, other risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Weakened immune system


Mucormycosis is a rare but threatening fungal infection which can affect the sinuses, facial bones, lungs, skin, and brain. It is caused by inhaling mold spores from a group of molds called mucormycetes, which are commonly found in soil.

What are the symptoms of Mucormycosis?

Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the infection in the body, however, can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Sinus congestion
  • Nausea and vomiting

I work with soil. Am I at risk of contracting Mucormycosis?

Fugus is common and naturally occurring in the environment. Typically, the body can effectively remove inhaled fungus spores without any adverse side effects. However, a person is at an increased risk of contracting Mucormycosis if they have a weakened immune system or health conditions such as diabetes or cancer.

What can I do to reduce my risk of contracting Legionnaire’s Disease and Mucormycosis?

While Legionnaire’s Disease is mostly treated with antibiotics and Mucormycosis can be treated with antifungal medications, both conditions can be fatal.

Therefore, it is important to take precautions when handling soil, potting mix, and compost.

  • Follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions listed on the bag.
  • Store bags in a cool, dry place to prevent the growth of bacteria.
  • Wear a mask and gloves when handling soil, potting mix, and compost.
  • Open bags slowly with the opening away from the face and in a well-ventilated space.
  • Gently wet soil, potting mix, and compost when handling to avoid creating dust.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water after handling.
  • If you are at high risk due to a weakened immune system or underlying health concerns, avoid working with soil, potting mix, and compost.

Am I eligible for WorkCover compensation if I have Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis? How can I prove that my illness was caused by work?

A worker diagnosed with Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis may be entitled to WorkCover compensation based on the nature of their employment (whether current or former employment).

It must be shown that the nature of your employment significantly increased the risk of you developing Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis, rather than you proving that your current or past employment with a specific employer is the actual cause.

A worker diagnosed with an occupational disease may be entitled to claim WorkCover compensation for:

  • Weekly loss of income benefits
  • Medical and like expenses
  • Impairment Benefit (no fault lump sum)
  • In some circumstances, damages for pain and suffering and loss of earnings

You may also be entitled to other benefits regardless of whether you qualify for WorkCover compensation, including total and permanent disablement benefits from your superannuation policy

What to do if you think you have Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis

If someone considers they may have Legionnaire’s Disease or Mucormycosis, they should see their general practitioner as soon as possible. The GP can help to determine if their occupational disease or illness may be due to the nature of their employment. It is important they give an occupational history. We also recommend you contact our legal team who can help support you through this process.