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Occupational Asthma-Causes & Prevention

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 2 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Occupational Asthma-causes & Prevention

There are many causes of occupational asthma in the workplace. It could be deemed to be ‘occupational’ if your symptoms tend to be worse during the working week or after you finish work or if your condition tends to improve whenever you’ve been away from the workplace for an extended period such as after you’ve been on holiday. It can often take years of working in an affected workplace for the condition to be extremely severe but it can affect you even within a few weeks or months.

What Causes Occupational Asthma?

Certain chemicals in the workplace have been shown to have a profound impact upon a person’s likelihood of developing asthmatic symptoms directly related to their work. Spray paints, dust from things like flour or grain, wood dust, fumes from glues and latex rubber such as that used in gloves by hospitals and dentists are just some of the more well reported causes. Referred to as ‘respiratory sensitisers’, the HSE has identified over 200 such causes and more are being identified all the time.

Prevention

If it’s not possible to substitute one or more of the sensitisers in the workplace and to replace those with safer alternatives, then it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that there are sufficient extractor fans in place or to provide you with specialised breathing equipment to prevent you from inhaling the sensitiser.

They must take action over this in accordance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations Act of 1994 and, in accordance with this legislation, it is necessary for an employer to carry out a full risk assessment with regard to this issue. Employees should also be given regular medical check-ups so that any sign of occupational asthma can be identified and treated early.

Diagnosis

As mentioned previously, if you notice that your asthma gets worse during the working week, even if this only noticed at home and not in the workplace or you find your sleep patterns become more disturbed during the working week or that your condition improves when you’ve been away from work for some time, it’s important that you see your GP who might then have to refer you on to a specialist.

Further Action

If medical opinion tends to agree that your work has contributed to the worsening of your condition, this should be recorded in your workplace’s accident book and you should inform your manager, your safety representative and your union representative if you have one. Many people choose to stay on with their employer once certain modifications have been made by the company to eliminate or, at least, take steps to minimise the causes of the problem but it is possible for you to seek compensation from your employer by making a claim for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from your local Benefits Agency, although you should seek advice before going down this route to ensure that you have a valid claim and that your employer has failed to rectify the problem. If you do pursue a compensation claim, however, it’s important you make that as soon as possible as it will only be backdated to the date you made the claim and not the date when you discovered that you might be suffering from occupational asthma.

The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) is a good place to find out more information about how to prevent occupational asthma and, if you are an employer, it also has a team of Medical Inspectors who can visit your workplace and offer you sound advice on how to help prevent it in order to ensure that you, as an employer, keep on the right side of the law. Your local authority’s Environment Health Department will also be able to offer advice with regard to this matter.

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