Occupational Asthma

Occupational asthma is a serious health condition which can develop as a result of exposure to certain gases, fumes and dusts which can damage the lungs and respiratory system.

There are two different types of occupational asthma:

Irritant Induced Occupational Asthma which usually develops after a single episode of very high exposure to an irritant chemical. The symptoms will develop within a short time of that exposure and tend to improve over time or may go away entirely.

Allergic Occupational Asthma occurs when a worker becomes becoming allergic or sensitised to a specific chemical or substance at work over a period of time.  The sensitisation can occur after months or years of exposure to the particular substance.  Once someone has been sensitised and has developed occupational asthma, their symptoms will be set off by very low levels of exposure.

The substances which cause asthma are called respiratory sensitisers. There are over 200 hundred known respiratory sensitisers.  These include the following substances:

  • Isocyanates – found in spray paints, glues and foam moulding
  • Wood dust
  • Flour and grain dust
  • Colophony – found in soldering fumes and some types of glue
  • Dust from latex rubber
  • Dust from insects and animals

These substances can affect a wide range of occupations including:

  • Bakery Workers and Pastry Makers
  • Paint Sprayers
  • Cleaners
  • Nursing and Care Staff
  • Laboratory Workers
  • Chemical Production Workers
  • Joiners/Carpenters
  • Welders
  • Animal Handlers

Asthma is of course a very common constitutional condition. The condition can, however, be categorised as work related if there is a very clear link between your symptoms and your work.

Do you experience any of the following respiratory symptoms?

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Tightness of chest
  • Coughing

Are your symptoms worse during the working week and do they tend to improve when you have been off work for a few days, only to flare up again when you return to work?  If so, you could be suffering from occupational asthma.

If you think you could be suffering from asthma, due to contact with substances at work, you should seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity. You should also report your symptoms to your employer.

If you believe your symptoms have been caused by your work you may be entitled to compensation, even if you have not been diagnosed with a specific condition.