With today being World Asthma Day, it seemed apt to talk about occupational asthma and how it can be caused within the workplace.
What is asthma?
According to Asthma Foundations Australia (AFA) people with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs and when exposed to certain triggers their airways narrow, making it hard for them to breathe.
Importantly, AFA also states that occupational asthma is the most prevalent occupational lung disease in developed countries, and can be severe and disabling.
There are three main forms of asthma that show up in the workplace:
1. Occupational asthma
There may be a number of substances in the workplace that can cause asthma to develop in a person who has not been affected previously. Regular exposure to these substances may cause the airways to become sensitive and eventually lead to the development of asthma. The time taken for this type of asthma to develop can vary from just a few weeks to years.
Occupational asthma can lead to permanent asthma if not detected early enough and may remain even when the employee has left the company and is no longer exposed to the triggers.
2. Work aggravated asthma
If an employee already has asthma, their symptoms may become aggravated when exposed to certain triggers in the workplace. These triggers include tobacco smoke, pollens, moulds, dust mites, chemicals, strong smells, foods, preservatives, flavourings and colourings.
Unfortunately it may not always be clear what is triggering the asthma symptoms and not everyone has the same triggers.
3. Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS)
If inhaled, there are some substances that can cause severe irritation and cause symptoms that are similar to asthma. It is generally the result of a single high exposure and symptoms usually disappear within 24 hours. These types of irritants include solvent vapours, gases, perfumes, dust or smoke particles, and cleaning agents.
Early treatment for workplace asthma is crucial
If you did not have asthma previously, and believe you’ve developed asthma following exposure to substances in the workplace, it is important to seek medical advice, undertake some lung function (Spirometry) tests and get an accurate diagnosis. In contrast with usual forms of asthma, taking action early may prevent the problem.
Avoiding future triggers does not necessarily mean leaving your workplace, but can involve identification of triggers as well as eliminating or minimising your exposure to them. Workplaces that are asthma aware will have such policies and procedures in place. Health monitoring is a legislative requirement in some States for workplaces where employees are working with designated hazardous chemicals.
If you’d like some assistance in identifying hazards and triggers in your workplace, give us a call on 1300 856 282.