The song was released as a single in the US and as a rare B-side to "Private Investigations" on cassette tape in the United Kingdom. The B-side to the US "Industrial Disease" single was "Solid Rock" from the previous Dire Straits album Making Movies.
The song takes a look at decline of the Britishmanufacturing industry in the early 1980s, focusing on strikes, depression and dysfunctionality. For example, the absurdity of media-driven maladies is laid out in a segment of the song describing the narrator's visit to a doctor's office for treatment of his "Industrial Disease".
While most of the song is about the reaction of different characters to the outbreak of Industrial disease, there are still plenty of references to the actual ailment itself. None are definitive and many seem to contradict and confuse.
A sneeze arouses fear of a possible case of Industrial Disease
Workers are reported to come out "in sympathy" and "in spots" (sympathy strikes and spot strikes)
'Dr Parkinson' diagnoses a patient with 'Smoker's Cough', 'Brewer's Droop', 'Bette Davis wheeze', Industrial Disease and depression. He writes an unknown prescription but it is unclear whether the depression is a symptom of any conditions above.
The singer poses the hypothetical question of 'How come Jesus gets Industrial Disease?' but it is unknown which one if not both of these men he is referring to:
The first man at Speaker's Corner declaring he is Jesus claims he will cure Industrial Disease soon by abolishing Monday mornings and Friday afternoons
The second man at Speaker's Corner declaring he is Jesus is on hunger strike