Exploring Occupational Asthma – Should Employers Do More?

Occupational asthma is the asthma people get as a result of the work they do. It is estimated that there are about 3,000 cases of work-related asthma diagnosed in the United Kingdom each year. 1 in 10 cases of asthma in grownups is related to work conditions. It is possible to prevent a majority of these cases if employers take the right steps in curbing air pollution.

What Causes Occupational Asthma?

Work-related asthma may be caused allergens or irritants.

  1. Occupational asthma caused by allergens

Some people have their asthmatic condition triggered by allergens found in the place of work like animal dander, exhaust fumes, flour particles, printing fumes etc. These allergens that lead to occupational asthma are known as respiratory sensitisers. Research shows that isocyanates present in automobile spray paint, and amylase used in bakeries are the most common allergens that trigger work-related asthma in the United Kingdom. The following are examples of jobs with the highest reports of occupational asthma related to exposure to allergens.

  • Vehicle spray painting jobs – exposure to isocyanate.
  • Baking – contact with amylase and flour particles.
  • Woodworking – coming into contact with dust from softwood, hardwood and wood composite.
  • Soldering – getting exposed to fumes emitted by rosin-based solder.
  • Health care work – using latex gloves regularly and Diathermy surgical technique.
  • Working with animals – exposure to animal aeroallergens such as animal dander, dried urine and feathers.
  • Agricultural work – exposure to agricultural dusts such as grain dust, poultry dust, fungal spores, mites, animal fur, plant dust, feed components etc.
  • Engineering – inhaling mist or vapor from metal working fluids.
  • Hairdressing – bleach used in hairdressing contains persulphate which can lead to asthma.
  1. Occupational asthma caused by irritants

Inhaling chemicals at the workplace can lead to occupational asthma. Examples of irritants at the workplace are ammonia, which is used as a cooling agent in fridges, and chlorine, which is used in swimming pools.

Should employers do more?

Employers have a responsibility under the 1974 Health Safety at Work Act to reduce any exposure to harmful substances in the place of business. If an employee comes into contact to any sort of allergens at work, the employer is expected to have told them about this when they first started to work there. The employee might be required to have a health check up at the beginning of their employment and each year they work there to ensure that they aren’t getting occupational asthma.

The employer is expected to consult the employee about the requirements they need to be enforced to help them. He/she might also consult the employee’s work nurse or doctor on the need to curb allergens at the place of work, and they should tell them what they plan to do to help.

Given that a person contracts work-related asthma, the boss has the responsibility to inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE will visit the work place to establish if preventive measures can be taken to avoid other asthma cases.

In need of professional assistance?

Health Screen is a SEQOHS Accredited company that provides occupational health surveillance all over the UK. Get in touch with them today and let them assist you in guarding your business and staff with effective health and safety strategies in the place of work.