CHEMICALS AT WORK LEFT ME BREATHLESS.
One 49-year-old woman, from Birmingham, who doesn't want to be named, had to quit her healthcare job after reacting to chemicals used by cleaners. She says: I was working in the NHS in 2005 as a healthcare assistant when I started to feel breathless and tired all the time. My voice had become hoarse and I had a cough. I just thought it was a cold or a chest infection and got on with it. Not for one second did I think my symptoms were connected to work.
My GP gave me an inhaler and I was eventually referred to hospital for tests.
I started to make the connection between my symptoms and the cleaning products used at work.
Whenever the cleaners used chlorine disinfectant tablets to clean the en suite bathrooms, I'd cough and my breathing would get worse. Sometimes I'd need time off work.
What was making the issue worse was that the cleaners were wrongly using the chlorine disinfectant tablets in badly-ventilated areas and dissolving them in hot water instead of cold, which increased the chemical vapours released. By 2014, I was diagnosed with occupational asthma and COPD, and last May it became so bad I collapsed at work. There had been an outbreak of c-diff, and the use of chlorine disinfectant went through the roof.
There were six buckets of the bleach tablets, and my legs went from under me. I needed to be nebulised to be able to breathe again. After that I became physically unable to do my work and was finally granted retirement on the grounds of ill health in June.
Before, I used to be really active. I'd go to the gym and walk the dog, but now going up and down the stairs is a huge effort. Everything has to be so planned and I need to do the bare minimum. I rest as often as I can.
Now I'm working with the team in the Birmingham Occupational Lung Disease Service at the Birmingham Chest Hospital to support their research and raise awareness of the risks that many people face in their occupations every day.
It's too late for me but I want to try to stop this happening to other people.