World Asthma Day: preventing occupational asthma

This World Asthma Day, we’re drawing attention to occupational asthma, and how this can be prevented.

Thousands of people in the UK have asthma, a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. Symptoms include:

  • severe shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness

Although it often starts in childhood, asthma can develop in adults. Symptoms can develop immediately after exposure to a workplace substance, or several hours later which can make a link with workplace activities less obvious.

Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma is the term for an allergic reaction for some people when they are exposed to certain substances. Not everyone who experiences occupational asthma goes on to develop asthma, but once they have become sensitised, further exposure to the substance, even at low levels, may trigger an attack.

Substances that can cause occupational asthma include flour dust, isocyanates, wood dust, and latex. A full list can be found here: List of substances that can cause occupational asthma – HSE

Work-related asthma

Work-related asthma, or asthma made worse by work, is the term used for asthmatic symptoms caused by substances in the workplace that irritate the airways of people who have pre-existing asthma, including asthma since childhood.

Examples of irritants for work-related asthma include:

  • chlorine
  • general dust
  • cold air

Prevention and control

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, require employers to prevent or control exposures to hazardous substances to protect employee’s health.

Practical steps to take include:

  • Have a COSHH Assessment of your workplace to identify hazardous substances and be given recommended exposure control measures
  • Consider employees’ short and long term exposure to hazardous substances
  • Provide sufficient information to employees on occupational asthma, relative to your workplace, and how to report symptoms
  • Train employees in your exposure control measures
  • Train employees in emergency procedures

Detailed information on the control of substances that cause occupational asthma can be found here: Approved code of practice (Appendix 3) – Asthma – HSE

Contact us today to arrange a COSHH Assessment, to book our Air Monitoring services, or for any queries you have about protecting your employees’ health and safety.

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