Butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers all work with some form of allergen or irritant. In fact, many workers across a wide range of occupations breathe in substances that, without proper protection, could cause occupational asthma.
Workplace irritants can cause asthma in those who don’t have it, cause asthma to return for those who used to have it, and worsen asthma symptoms for those who currently have it. Knowing what to look for and how to prevent it can help make your workplace safe.
Approximately 1.9 million cases of asthma among adults in the United States are work related. And, these affect more industries than you might think.
Many work environments have hazards that can trigger occupational asthma, including:
- Firefighters exposed to smoke and other toxins.
- Agricultural workers exposed to grain dust, animal dander, and antibiotics.
- Construction workers exposed to fumes, gases, and vapors when working with curing glues and epoxy resins or dust from sanding, mixing concrete, and drywall.
- Sawmill workers, paper, and furniture manufacturers exposed to wood dust.
- Healthcare workers who breathe in the powdered protein from latex gloves.
- Auto body workers exposed to organic compounds during priming and painting.
- Individuals working with chemicals and those exposed to biological and environmental agents including molds and spores.
- Workers using harmful cleaning agents in confined spaces.
- Bakers inhaling flour dust.
If you are an employer, it is your responsibility to provide the information, resources, and equipment so your employees can protect themselves from occupational asthma.
Here are some things you should do to get started:
- Follow OSHA health and safety guidelines.
- Provide safety equipment and protective gear that are appropriate for the exposures in your business, such as masks, respirators, dust control air cleaners, and vacuums.
- Train workers on the proper use of safety equipment and good housekeeping procedures to help minimize exposure.
- Provide respirator fit testing.
If you are an employee, here are some steps you can take to avoid triggering or worsening asthma:
- Work with your doctor to control existing respiratory conditions.
- Report asthma symptoms immediately, including coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath.
- Always wear a mask or respirator while working with hazardous airborne materials or when medically approved and respiratory protection is required.
- Avoid tobacco smoke.
Learn more about recognition and prevention of occupational asthma.
You’ll breathe easier for doing so.