4 things you should really know about Occupational Asthma
Did you know…
- Around 5.4 million people in the UK suffer from asthma
- Asthma sufferers in the UK are amongst the most likely to die due to their condition in Europe – with around 1,400 asthma-related deaths a year
- Yet it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of people with asthma are still not receiving the basic level of care:
- Around 1 in 10 cases of all adult onset asthma are caused by the workplace
What is Occupational Asthma?
Occupational Asthma is the term used to describe asthma directly caused by allergens or irritants at work. While it often takes time to develop through prolonged exposure, once a worker has become sensitive to a substance, even exposure to small amounts of the substance can trigger asthmatic symptoms. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
If Occupational Asthma is not properly managed it can lead to debilitating attacks, hospitlisation or even death.
People with a history of smoking or allergies have a higher chance of developing asthma at work. But the real catalyst for occupational asthma is the presence of allergens and irritants.
Allergens are substances that have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Animal hair, latex, dust, bacteria and spores are all possible allergens workers in different fields may be faced with (and sometimes unknowingly). Bakeries, Hospitals, Pet Shops and Farms each contain one or more of these allergens, putting workers in these areas at a particular high risk of occupational asthma.
Irritants are substances that cause swelling. In the case of occupational asthma, this would be swelling of the airways, lung matter, throat or nose. Possible irritants include: chemicals from sprays such as isocyanate – found in car paint, inhaling wood dust that has been sanded, and airborne chloramines – the strong-smelling fume byproduct of chlorine. Irritants are particularly common in carpentry workshops, car garages, construction sites and cleaning agencies.
Unlike most cases of asthma, the symptoms of Occupational Asthma can be cured if they are identified early on and exposure is limited. However, this is not always the case, and even if symptoms do go away, exposure to the allergens/irritants will still trigger asthmatic symptoms.
Even better than a cure however, is preventing occupational asthma from developing in the first place.
Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) or Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) may be a viable solution.
Your employer has a legal duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect you from harm in the workplace. A full risk assessment should have been undertaken in conjunction with an evaluation using the Hierarchy of Controls to see what risks you are likely to face in your role, and whether or not the hazards could be removed or reduced.
When the hazards cannot be fully mitigated by other means, RPE may be the answer.
Different types of RPE and filters exist for protecting employees against different harmful substances in different environments. Proper use of RPE prevents harmful trigger particles entering the longs of the worker. This prevents them from developing an allergic reaction or irritation that could lead to Occupational Asthma.
While not everyone will get Occupational Asthma, it’s an employees legal and moral duty to protect its workers’ health. Failing to do so not only puts peoples health and lives at risk – it could lead to large monetary fines and criminal prosecutions.
For more information about what kind of RPE might be suitable in your situation – get in touch with one of our RPE Experts today on: firstname.lastname@example.org
What if I already have Occupational Asthma?
- If you have any asthmatic symptoms when at work, or in the evening or night after being at work, you may be reacting to a harmful substance at work. If so, see your doctor.
- Inform your employer. Prolonged exposure can worsen the symptoms and makes it more likely for your Occupational Asthma to last. Your employer should remove you from the hazardous environment or give you the proper RPE to carry out your role. If you feel your employer is treating you unfairly as a result of your occupational asthma, you can speak to HR, a trade union or contact your local Health & Safety Executive (HSE) office/local environmental health department.
- If your Occupational Asthma continues and you feel that it was at the fault of your employer, you may be able to seek compensation or disability allowance.
You should seek advice quickly as you will usually only have three years to make a claim. Free legal advice can be sort from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
For more information on Occupational Asthma, please visit: https://www.asthma.org.uk