Employees working in industries where exposure to irritating substances is common, should look to these four signs from industrial disease experts to minimise the risk of contracting occupational asthma.
There are currently 5.4 million people in the UK suffering from asthma, a condition that causes a sufferer’s airways to become irritated and constricted, making it harder to breathe. It is now more important than ever to understand how your job role or working conditions can affect your health.
Occupational asthma is an asthma that is caused by, or worsened by, exposure to substances in the workplace. The substances may cause asthma in one of three ways; an allergic reaction, an irritant reaction or a reaction which results in the build-up of naturally occurring chemicals, such as histamines in the lungs resulting in an asthma attack.
Neil McKinley, personal injury solicitor at JMP Solicitors, specialises in industrial disease cases including occupational related conditions, he said: “One of the most important steps you can take to reduce the occurrence of this breathing condition is to reduce your exposure to the triggers of occupational asthma.
“Risk of occupational asthma increases if you have existing allergies or asthma, or if allergies or asthma runs in the family. Smoking can also increase your risk of developing asthma if you are exposed to certain types of irritants.”
Here are the four signs you’re at risk of occupational asthma:
The industry you work in
It is possible to develop occupational asthma in almost any job role. But in some industries, there are certain positions that are classed as high-risk. For example, metal workers who may come into close contact with asthma producing substances like cobalt or nickel, or those who work in the food production and farming industry due to the exposure to milk/egg powders and cereal grains or those working with biofuels and chemicals in manufacturing processes.
Exposure to occupational asthma triggers
There are currently more than 250 workplace substances that have been identified as possible causes of occupational asthma. Exposure to these triggers can intensify asthma symptoms and cause occupational asthma to develop. There are numerous substances that can trigger the breathing condition:
Grains, green coffee beans, and papain (an extract of papaya that may trigger a latex allergy)
Cotton, flax, and hemp dust, most commonly found in the textile industry
Metals such as platinum, chromium, nickel sulphate, and soldering fumes
Chemicals such as adhesives, shellac and lacquer, plastics, epoxy resins, carpeting, foam and rubber, insulation, dyes (textile workers), and enzymes in detergents
Proteins in animal hair and/or dander
Caustic acid, sulphuric acid, ethanol and biodiesel
Symptoms of occupational asthma often include general symptoms of an asthma attack such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulty. But symptoms can also include eye irritation, nasal congestion, and/or a runny nose.
It is also important to pay attention to the frequency of these symptoms too. If you notice that your asthma symptoms are worse on days that you work and then improve on days when you are at home for an extended period of time such as holidays and weekends then you may be suffering from occupational asthma.
Lack of appropriate equipment and training
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a government agency that has created guidelines that determine acceptable levels of exposure to substances that may cause asthma. Employers are required to follow these rules and protect employees from the causes of occupational asthma and conditions that trigger symptoms of pre-existing asthma at work. There are also safety data sheets (SDS) to assist determination of the potential toxic exposure to possible irritants.