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Asthma at work

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Today is world asthma day. Seven thousand people develop asthma because of their work every year (134 per day), according to the TUC. TUC General Secretary John Monks said: “Asthma can be a debilitating and painful condition that really restricts people’s lives – and it can often mean they have to give up their career and their livelihood. Employers lose out too, because the people who get asthma at work tend to be highly skilled and costly to replace.”

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the National Asthma Campaign said: “The UK has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. We would like to see greater involvement from health professionals in identifying where new cases of adult asthma are occupational, as this is key in establishing what causes asthma and how it might be treated in the future. This will not only enhance the quality of life of people with asthma, but will also improve reporting and prevention of asthma in the workplace.”

Although most people with asthma lead full and active lives, the condition can be fatal – about 500 adults aged 16-65 die every year as a result of asthma (not just work-related asthma) – altogether there are about 3.7 million adults with asthma in Great Britain, of whom the TUC estimates over 10% have asthma caused by work (most of the 3.7 million adults with asthma first developed their symptoms as children).

The main causes of asthma at work are: latex gloves, flour dust in bakeries, isocyanates used in painting and other processes, laboratory animals, solder fumes, wood dust, glutaraldehyde (used as a disinfectant), glues and resins. Workers most at risk of exposure include nurses, woodworkers and painters and lab technicians.

This summer, the Health and Safety Commission is introducing a new, legally binding Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on the control of substances that cause occupational asthma, as an appendix to the new Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002. This will bring home to employers that the law requires them to ensure substances that cause occupational asthma are properly controlled.

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