Data from a stratified sample of hospital emergency rooms in the USA were used to describe nonfatal work-related inhalation injuries and illnesses during July 1995 to July 1996. Information was abstracted from emergency room records by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as part of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) for all work-related injuries and illnesses regardless of product involvement. There were an estimated 44,423 occupational inhalation cases nationwide, with an annual rate of 3.6 cases/10(4) workers/year. The rate for men (4.4 cases/10(4)) was greater than that observed for women (2.6 cases/10(4)), and the rates tended to decline with increasing age. An estimated 4.6% of the cases were hospitalized for further treatment. The highest rate by industry was 16.4 cases/10(4) for public administration (which included fire and police departments). Among non-firefighters, there were an estimated 6,470 cases nationwide in which respiratory symptoms or conditions were noted, which yielded an annual rate of 0.5 cases/10(4) (95% CI 0.3, 0.7). Chlorine compounds were a common agent for the cases with adverse respiratory outcomes. The NEISS data provide an efficient method to learn about the national frequency of work-related inhalation injuries and illnesses. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is exploring two ways to use these data: first, to routinely review the reports to conduct surveillance for work-related inhalation cases; and second, to consider working with CPSC to conduct follow-back interviews of selected cases in order to learn more about the circumstances of the exposure, prior training of the case, and outcome of the exposure.