Get answers to the following questions: What is occupational asthma? What are its causes and prevention? What is the OSHA standard surrounding it?
Published 1 Dec 2022
Occupational asthma is a lung disease caused by exposure to substances and other specific chemicals present in the workplace. It can manifest as an allergic reaction or immunological response to an agent you're particularly sensitive to, or as a natural reaction due to buildup of inhaled substances over a period of time. Asthma that developed due to a profession and asthma that worsened because of work-related activities are both considered as occupational asthma.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, approximately 17% of adult-onset asthma is related to occupation and exposure to allergens and irritants in the workplace. Additionally, based on a report released by Occupational & Environmental Medicine of BMJ Journals—an estimated 1.8 million Americans suffer from asthma that can be traced back to their occupation.
Numerous substances have already been identified to have triggered workplace asthma or worsened them, and there are still new substances developed everyday that can potentially be allergens and irritants. Some of the common substances include:
Furthermore, occupations at high-risk of work-related asthma include:
If you want to learn more about the causes of occupational asthma, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of the UK has a detailed list of specific substances identified to have caused occupational asthma.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard on occupational asthma highlights that documentation and general industry practices including the use of personal protective equipment and knowledge on toxic and hazardous substances are crucial in maintaining a safe working environment for employees.
Additionally, OSHA 3707 provides a simple guide for patients and doctors in identifying and managing work-related asthma. It also includes other resources that might be helpful in answering common queries about the specific occupational disease.
There are alot of chemicals and substances present in every workplace that can cause occupational asthma. Allergens and irritants also vary for each individual and there’s no specific solution on how to avoid them altogether. Businesses should, however, do their best to always protect or at least minimize the risks of occupational asthma to employees and other people occupying the facility.
The following are some tips on how businesses can prevent or reduce the chance of occupational asthma in the workplace:
The best defense from developing occupational asthma is to know your employees. Identify if they have existing conditions or allergies that can be triggered by specific substances in the workplace. Minimize their exposure to these chemicals, if possible. Use a simple checklist such as this asthma checklist to monitor and assess their condition and work from there.
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
Ensure that you let your employees know that they will be working with potential hazardous materials so they can identify if there are materials that they are particularly sensitive to, and also practice preventive measures on their own.
Always maintain cleanliness in your workplace to avoid any unnecessary buildup of dangerous and non-dangerous materials which not only increases the chances of occupational asthma, but can also pose other safety hazards to your employees and other people in the vicinity.
If you can, avoid using common allergy-inducing substances in your workplace—especially those identified to be hazardous to health. Another option is to find other alternatives that won’t present as much threat to your employees’ well-being.
If hazardous substances can’t be avoided, ensure that the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used and that this is regularly observed and enforced by safety officers. Providing the necessary equipment and ensuring their use can help protect vulnerable employees and reduce their chances of developing work-related asthma.
Conduct regular inspections in the facilities to ensure that all protocols are being followed and practiced across-the-board, especially in areas where hazardous substances are present.
Businesses must also take note of the possible solutions that OSHA has specified regarding the hazards associated with occupational asthma. These include, but are not limited to:
A streamlined set of control measures is instrumental in reducing the chances of occupational asthma or, at least, in minimizing its effect. Businesses can utilize various ways to help them achieve a safer working environment for their employees with regard to the hazards of work-related asthma.
SafetyCulture is a powerful digital inspection and auditing tool that businesses can use in implementing their control measures to prevent the occurrence of asthma from work-related activities. Aside from enabling you to perform unlimited inspections using asthma-related checklists and other occupational hazard checklists, SafetyCulture also helps you do the following:
Learn more about the capabilities of the SafetyCulture digital platform through our Knowledge Base or go ahead and try SafetyCulture for free!
Businesses, safety managers, and safety officers can use this template to monitor compliance with various preventive measures related to occupational asthma. Use this checklist in SafetyCulture to do the following:
Assess and observe employees with asthma history, and reduce the likelihood of workplace substances worsening their condition using this checklist. Specify various details such as medication storage, frequency, and common causes of asthma attacks.
Jaydee Reyes is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her six-year experience in the field of data research and media monitoring adds expertise and quality to her work. She is also a champion of leveraging technology to promote a culture of safety in workplaces around the world. As a content specialist, she aims to help companies adapt to digital changes through interesting and informational articles.
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