Occupational asthma is a condition that comes about when an individual is subjected to the inhalation of certain irritants within their place of work. For some the condition may appear noticeable within a few weeks or months of commencing employment, for others, it can take years before any symptoms become apparent. As with everything it depends on the individual, along with the type of substance that has been ingested. The substances, also known as respiratory sensitisers, enter the body through inhalation and affect the lung.

The usual symptoms of occupational asthma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest, due to narrowing of the airways. If there is continued exposure, then it can lead to chronic asthma. There are triggers that can set off an asthma attack: animal hair, dust and pollen are examples. These triggers although they can set off an asthma attack, are not the actual cause of the condition.

There are medications that can help prevent and control asthma attacks, but it is generally a lifelong condition. Severe asthma attacks require hospital treatment as they can be life-threatening. Here we take a look at some of the most common causes of occupational asthma. This list is not extensive, there are other known substances that when inhaled can also cause this condition.

Working with Chemicals

Chemicals known as Isocyanates are the leading cause of occupational asthma in the UK. There are many occupations where employees who are exposed to these harmful chemicals, then go on to develop occupational asthma. Those who work as spray painters, factory workers and mechanics are at risk. The harmful chemicals are used in the manufacture of paints, varnishes, adhesives, metal castings and foam moulding.

There are detailed regulations in place that should protect workers from exposure within the workplace and these should be adhered to. Therefore if you have developed asthma through inhalation of these chemicals in your place of work, you may be entitled to make a personal injury claim for compensation.

Working with Latex

The dust from latex rubber when inhaled can cause occupational asthma. Natural rubber latex is most often used in the making of rubber gloves, which are worn on a daily basis in the healthcare sector. Today, however, it is becoming common practice to use these gloves in many other professions, including those employed by the police force and cleaning companies. The gloves do not have to be worn for them to be harmful, as the dust is released into the air. Therefore all those that work within the environment where they are used are susceptible.

Latex is also used in the manufacture of stethoscopes, catheters and intravenous tubing, putting medical staff at further risk. Those suffering from occupational asthma as the result of latex inhalation could be entitled to make a compensation claim.

Working with Flour

Regular exposure to flour dust is the second most common cause of occupational asthma in the UK. In France it is said to be the main cause of this condition. Occupational asthma as the result of flour inhalation is also often referred to as Bakers Asthma, as bakers are far more likely to contract the condition due to their daily use of flour. Those working in kitchens and flour mills are also at a high risk of exposure.

Working with Grain

The dust produced from a variety of grains when they are harvested, dried, handled and processed can put workers at risk of developing occupational asthma. Workers that are most at risk are those who are employed in the agricultural industry, as well as food factories, flour mills, breweries and those who work in the transportation of them.

Working with Laboratory Animals

Working in a laboratory where animals are kept can cause occupational asthma, similarly, those that regularly handle animals or clean enclosures where animals are kept are also at risk. The fur, feathers, dried urine and saliva from the animals contain dust with animal aeroallergens. This is the cause of occupational asthma in employees working in these environments. If you have contracted occupational asthma through contact with lab animals, or your existing asthma has become more severe then you may be entitled to claim compensation.

Working with Enzymes

Enzymes that are used in food processing, found in detergents and in cleaning agents can cause occupational asthma. Therefore those who work in factories where these products are manufactured, bakers, warehouse workers, hospital and cleaning staff are at a high risk of developing occupational asthma.

Can I Make a Compensation Claim if I Already Suffer from Asthma?

Those who have been diagnosed and already suffer from asthma may find working in any of the industries mentioned above could increase the severity of their symptoms. Therefore they are still entitled to make a claim. For anyone who thinks they have contracted occupational asthma or that their asthma symptoms have increased in severity due to their work conditions, they can make a claim for compensation. There are detailed regulations in place that all employers should adhere to, this is called the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations). Employers have a responsibility to protect their staff if they have not then they are at fault. Should you wish to make a claim, there is a time limit from the day of diagnosis of three years in which to do so. This time limit is not from the time you were exposed to the hazardous substance.  

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