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Work-Related Asthma: A Preventable Disease

Posted by Emilcott Associates

May 27, 2014 1:51:00 PM

work asthma resized 600Work-related asthma (WRA) is an occupational lung disease associated with serious adverse health and socioeconomic consequences.   However, after years of study and collection of data, it is evident that there are many opportunities for intervention and prevention—especially among workers with similar occupational exposures.

WRA consists of:  1) work-exacerbated asthma, such that a preexisting condition or concurrent asthma become worse by factors or exposures related to the workplace; and 2) occupational asthma which is generally considered new onset asthma attributed to the workplace environment .  An estimated 11 million workers in a wide range of industries and occupations are exposed to at least one of the numerous agents known to be associated with occupational asthma.  These include certain chemicals, dust, and allergens such as latex and animal dander.

The American Thoracic Society estimated that 15% of U.S. adults with asthma have asthma attributable to occupational factors.  The Center for Disease Control analyzed data from the 2006–2009 and reported that of the employed adults with current asthma, the overall proportion of current asthma that is WRA was 9.0%. Proportions of WRA were highest among persons aged 45–64 years (12.7%), blacks (12.5%), and persons of other races (11.8%).

The prevention of WRA requires work-environmental interventions and medical management tools such as, patient education, demonstrating behavior changes to avoid asthma triggers, using drug therapies, and frequent medical follow-ups to treat and identify asthma patients.  OSHA has multiple pages on it’s website and specific documentation/tools available for addressing WTA, including specific reports and research that address exposure and control for those working in farming and animal handling/research labs; working with hazardous chemicals (formaldehyde and diisocyanates); latex and latex; and dusts such as silica and dusts from dyes;.

OSHA addresses WRA in specific standards for recordkeeping and through the General Duty Clause (29 CFR 1910) and 29 CFR 1904 - recording and reporting occupational injuries and illness.  They will also look at:

 1910 Subpart I, Personal protective equipment

1910.132, General requirements

1910.134, Respiratory protection

1910 Subpart Z, Toxic and hazardous substances

1910.1048, Formaldehyde and Appendix C, Medical surveillance-formaldehyde

In its document “ The Work-Related Lung Disease (WoRLD) Surveillance Report 2002” The CDC provides information on various work-related respiratory diseases and associated exposures in the United States. The WoRLD Surveillance Report 2002 describes where these diseases are occurring (by industry and geographic location), who is affected (by race, gender, age, and occupation), how frequently they occur, and temporal trends. 

All this points to prevention by using engineering controls, personal protective, programs, reduction of toxic chemical usage and medical surveillance. 

Concerned about work-related asthma? Emilcott has provided industrial hygiene exposure monitoring and program management for over 25 years to a wide variety of clients from all types of industries. Contact us if you have any concerns

Topics: occupational asthma, occupational lung disease, Work-related asthma

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