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Asthma is a lung disease, which involves a reversible narrowing of the airways, restricting the ability to breathe freely. Asthma can lead to chronic disablement and in worst cases death.

What is occupational asthma?

Occupational asthma occurs when substances, known as respiratory sensitisers, are inhaled. These harmful substances can affect the body’s immune system leading to an allergic reaction. The symptoms of the allergic reaction include wheezing, coughing and tightness of the chest with an associated difficulty in breathing.

Asthma is a common ailment, but it is only when respiratory sensitisers are encountered at work that the term occupational asthma is used.

There are many occupations in which respiratory sensitisers are encountered. More substances are being added to the list as new processes and products are developed and scientific knowledge develops. The list below is not exhaustive and you should ensure that your COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessments are based on the most up-to-date knowledge available:

  • Isocyanates - Paint and plastic foam
  • Grain - Agriculture and zoos
  • Flour - Bakeries
  • Solder fume - Electrical and electronic industries.

If you suspect that you are using substances that might give rise to asthma there are some steps you should take:

  • Eliminate the substance altogether, or
  • Replace it with one that is less harmful.
  • If elimination is not possible then safety information should be obtained from the supplier and you should carry out a CoSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations) assessment
  • The assessment indicates what control actions to take such as restrictions in exposure, the use of respiratory protection or the installation of exhaust extraction.
  • Steps should be taken to make sure that everybody knows about the hazards, the controls and what to do if symptoms occur.

Whatever controls are put in place they need to be inspected and maintained to make sure they work properly. It may also be necessary to set up a programme of health monitoring for those exposed and include a pre-employment medical.

Next Steps

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Please Note
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.

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