Occupation Related Asthma: The Newest Public Health Crisis

Studies performed in Spain by Dr. Josep Anto from the Municipal Institute of Medical Research demonstrated that women employed as housekeepers exhibited an increased risk of developing asthma secondary to cleaning chemical exposure. Of the hundreds of women evaluated for the study, 40 percent held employment as housekeepers in the past or present. Scientists found that one in eight women connected with cleaning positions, suffered from asthma. One in six women suffered from bronchitis.

Household cleaning spray bottles graphic

Industries Linked to Adult Asthma

The housekeeping and general cleaning occupation is only one industry seeing an onset of adult asthma due to chemical exposure. There were 18 high-risk jobs linked to the adult asthma cases. At the top of the list were farmers. The use of cleaning products on equipment, pesticides, and even small particles of flour and grains have the risk of causing adult asthma.

General cleaners, office cleaners, care workers, aircraft mechanics, and even typesetters were all listed as high-risk professions for asthma. Even your local hairdresser isn’t safe. The inhalation of small particles into the airways can cause the irritation and workers are advised to protect themselves.

Agents Linked to Occupational Asthma

There have been many agents identified to contribute to the onset of adult asthma linked by occupation. Many of these agents are often overlooked or not considered hazardous. Aside from commonly inhaled particles such as grains and flour, many chemical agents are high-risk. Some of these agents include:

  • Acetic acid
  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Bleaching agents
  • Burned-paint fumes
  • Chlorine gas
  • Floor sealant
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Locomotive/diesel exhaust
  • Phosgene
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Silicon
  • Silo gas
  • Smoke (inhaled)
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Toluene diisocyanate
  • Welding fumes

Many of these chemicals are in constant use throughout a variety of industries. Some of these industries that have a particularly higher risk than others may include:

  • Bakers, farmers, flour mill workers, grain elevator workers
  • Silk-processing workers, research laboratory workers, insect-raising facility workers
  • Prawn, snow-crab, and fish processors
  • Laboratory workers, animal handlers
  • Detergent producers, food industry workers, blood-processing laboratory workers
  • Carpet manufacturing workers, pharmaceutical industry workers, latex-glove manufacturing workers, health care workers
  • Plastic, rubber or foam manufacturing workers, spray painters, foam insulation installers
  • Solderers, electronic industry workers
  • Health care workers

Employer Responsibilities

Adult asthma risks are commonly overlooked by employers. Where cleaning supplies are concerned, employers educate their employees to more serious risks rather than constant inhalation. With this widespread condition, employers are advised to take action.

Employers must first identify the high-agents used by employees on a regular basis. Equipping employees with adequate respiratory protection such as masks can help reduce the risk. Other options include replacing the high-risk agents, reassigning high-risk employees (those with a history of asthma), and educating employees to the risks involved with their everyday duties.

lungs asthma graphic

Worker’s Compensation and Treatment

As employees are affected by the work conditions, worker’s compensation claims may increase. These claims should be dealt with according to local regulations. The assessment of occupational asthma should only be performed two years after the employee has been removed from high-risk conditions and the asthmatic condition has stabilized.

Treatment for occupational asthma is the same as any asthmatic condition. Inhalers and drug therapies may be needed for the condition. Frequent medical follow-ups are suggested to treat the asthma. Employee education is vital in creating a safe workplace that will allow the treatment to help. Keeping employees away from asthma triggers, and demonstrating behavior changes will assist in treatment.

Every day we are unknowingly exposed to public health risks. Even as our government steps in to battle these risks and increase the health of the U.S. we must still educate ourselves to truly be safe. Public health should be a concern for every one of us and the more you know, the better protected you can be.

About the Author

Tracy Rentz writes on public health issues. Interested in creating a healthier world and solving wide-scale health problems? Pursuing a public health masters degree might be the right choice for you.

3 thoughts on “Occupation Related Asthma: The Newest Public Health Crisis

  • March 11, 2013 at 3:58 am

    I found that using Allersafe products greatly helps with all allergies and asthma.

    • March 11, 2013 at 7:54 am

      I have always used simple things like baking soda, vinegar for cleaning. I make my own soap and laundry detergent, so don’t rely on the disgusting commercial Petroleum products.

  • March 10, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Years ago I was an electroplater by trade. In that industry you use harsh chemicals, thus we used protective gloves, masks, etc. That was over 35 years ago. What is wrong with people today, that they don’t think about protecting themselves?


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