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For more information on Asthma click here for the relevant chapter of the TUC guide to health and safety "Hazards at Work

Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways which leads to them becoming inflamed, muscles in the airways tightening, and too much mucus being produced. As the airways narrow, the air has more difficulty getting in and out and this is what causes the person with asthma to have problems in breathing.

Asthma symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tightening around the chest. For some sufferers the symptoms are so severe that they cannot work again.

Occupational asthma is caused when workers breathe in substances at work that leads to them developing a sensitivity to it. The body sets off an immune reaction to the substance, and any further exposure can bring about an attack. In some cases the symptoms develop immediately after exposure, but for some people they will not appear until several hours later, often at night.

There are over 200 substances that are known to be capable of causing occupational asthma. The most common of these are a group of chemicals called isocyanates. These are found in many paints and foams. Other common causes of asthma are flour dust, latex (in particular latex gloves), wood dust, some glues and resins, solder fumes, laboratory animals, some reactive dyes, cobalt, enzymes (in detergents), and even certain insects such as mites.

Once a person has been sensitised to dust or chemical, further exposure to that substance, even at very low levels, can lead to further attacks.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates 1,500 to 3,000 new cases of occupational asthma arise every year, but this rises to 7,000 cases a year if you include asthma made worse by work.

However it is important to emphasise that occupational asthma can be very easily prevented through preventing exposure to those chemicals and dusts that are know to trigger or cause asthma.


The TUC and BOHS have produced a guide that explains the importance of occupational hygiene and the role it plays in protecting workers.
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