Causes of Occupational Asthma in the Workplace
January 22, 2020
Occupational asthma is a respiratory condition caused by inhaling gases, dusts, chemical fumes, or other substances while working. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can also develop after exposure to substances that the worker has sensitivity to (such as an allergy or immune response). Because certain substances are known to cause occupational asthma, it is critical that employers take precautionary measures to protect workers from this preventable – though sometimes permanent – condition.
Occupational Asthma: General Info and Causes
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAI) estimates that as much as 15% of all asthma cases in the United States are job-related. A variety of irritants (more than 250 altogether) are known to cause occupational asthma, but some of the most common ones in the workplace are:
- Chemicals used to make paints, adhesives, laminates, and varnishes,
- Chlorine gas,
- Sulfur dioxide, and:
- Metals like chromium, platinum, and nickel sulfate
Although occupational asthma is usually treatable and reversible – as long as the affected party is no longer exposed to the irritant(s) – it can also cause permanent lung damage, disability, or even death. Certain individuals face higher risks for developing occupational asthma than others do. People with a family history of asthma or allergies, or someone who already has asthma or allergies are more likely to develop the condition, as well as smokers.
Signs and Symptoms
Occupational asthma can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often change based on exposure. For example, symptoms may worsen as the workweek progresses – or they may go away when a worker goes on vacation or takes a few days off from work. However, some signs and symptoms of occupational asthma to look out for include:
- Shortness of breath,
- Chest pain,
- Runny nose,
- Eye irritation,
- Coughing, and:
Complications from occupational asthma can range from mild to severe. In rare cases, occupational asthma can lead serious medical complications, such as partial or complete lung collapse, pneumonia, and respiratory failure (when oxygen levels become dangerously low or carbon dioxide levels grow too high.)
Control Methods in the Workplace
Employers are obligated to provide safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. A major part of providing a safe workplace is to guard against recognizable hazards, such as the causes of occupational asthma. Luckily, there are several ways that employers can implement effective control methods to limit rates of this dangerous respiratory condition.
One of the first lines of defense against occupational asthma is to limit workers’ exposure to irritants and other chemical substances. Exposure can be limited in many ways, such as by using less harmful chemicals on the job and by providing employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks or respirators. The Mayo Clinic also urges employers to advise employees about the risks of exposure to hazardous workplace materials and to ensure that they provide adequate training on safe handling of chemicals and irritants.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several safety standards in place for preventing occupational asthma and controlling respiratory hazards in the workplace. If you would like to learn more about OSHA’s federal guidelines, you can visit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/occupationalasthma/standards.html. If you believe you became ill because your employer was negligent and failed to provide a safe and healthful workplace, someone at our firm can help. Please contact a representative directly.
Allentown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured at Work
Galfand Berger has offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading our attorneys serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.