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Could your job be causing asthma?

Byline: Miriam Stoppard

Occupational asthma, where the symptoms are caused by something at work, could cost the UK as much as pounds 95 to pounds 135million a year.

And even worse, according to a study published in medical journal Thorax, virtually all these costs are met by individuals and the NHS, with employers coughing up a mere 3%.

According to the authors, costs could be slashed if steps were taken to reduce exposure to the agents that cause workplace asthma.

But there is little financial incentive for employers to do this.

However, as an employer myself, I would suggest that having healthy, happy employees who do not take many days off sick would surely be enough of a motive? First let's be clear: most of the UK's 5.4 million cases of asthma aren't related to jobs. Besides some chemicals, triggers range from the humble house dust mite to pet dander (animal hair and skin flakes) and temperature changes.

However the Health and Safety Executive estimates that between 1,500 and 3,000 cases a year are actually caused by work - the most common culprits being chemicals used in spray painting, flour, foam, carpentry and adhesives.

A further 4,000 suffer from workrelated asthma, where exposure to substances makes pre-existing asthma even worse.

I'd urge anyone who thinks their asthma is made worse or is caused by work doesn't put up with it.

Coughing, wheezing, a tightness in the chest and breathlessness are all possible symptoms. Asthma is potentially very serious to the point of being fatal if it's allowed to get out of control.

The first step is to establish how much work is affecting your symptoms. This is more clear-cut with occupational asthma - for instance you've only had asthma since starting a job that involves working with chemicals and your symptoms get better over weekends and holidays.

However, if you had asthma before and it's become worse since starting a stressful job, it may not be so easy to pin down, as stress can aggravate conditions.

Either way, your GP can refer you to a specialist to determine this. If they think your asthma could be either occupational or work-related, they should inform your employer who should carry out a risk assessment and, if possible, take steps to separate you from the problem chemicals.

If this isn't happening, raise the issues with your manager, the person responsible for health and safety, or your union. Asthma UK ( and the Health and Safety Executive ( can give you advice and explain your legal rights.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 6, 2010
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