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Occupational asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways; this is characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Asthma at work can be caused by a variety of things, namely in the inhalation of hazardous or toxic dusts, gases, fumes and vapours. These inhaled substances can the damage the lining of the lungs resulting in shortness of breath (dyspnea), wheezing and painful coughing. Occupational asthma can also surface as an allergic reaction to certain airborne substances such as flour or wood dust. Substances like these are known as 'respiratory sensitisers' or asthmagens; these can cause changes in the airways of affected individuals known as the 'hypersensitive state'. Once the lungs become hypersensitive, continued exposure to the substance, even at low levels, can elicit an attack.
Occupational asthma symptoms can develop immediately after exposure to a substance at work. In some cases however, symptoms may not appear until several hours later, possibly at night. This can sometimes make any link with workplace activities unclear.
According to statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the number of occupational asthma cases has declined since 2000. Occupations that see the highest rate of occupational asthma incidence are bakers and vehicles paint sprayers, where the most common root causes were isocyanates (involved in the production of polyurethanes) followed by flour.
There are a variety of known occupational asthma causes, many of which are due to hazardous substance exposure. Your employer however, has a legal responsibility to minimise the risk of this exposure. In instances where it is not possible to prevent these hazardous substances from becoming airborne, the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used to prevent inhalation. These can include respirators, air filtration systems as well as a variety of other working techniques.
There are many substances that can cause asthma, some of which are highly industry specific.
These substances include:
If you suffer from asthma at work, the symptoms will be obvious. Severe shortness of breath is the most common symptom and this can prevent you from completing even the simplest tasks. Other symptoms can also include wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. Other associated conditions include rhinitis (sneezing/runny nose) and conjunctivitis (itchy and inflamed red eyes). The symptoms experienced will range in severity; some victims will find the symptoms to be manageable with drug therapy; whilst others will find the condition debilitating, where even the smallest amount of activity will render them unable to do anything further.
For many occupational asthma sufferers, this is frustrating and difficult. In severe cases some victims can feel almost helpless. So if you feel that you might be affected by occupational asthma, you are well within your rights to begin making an asthma compensation claim.
Diagnosing occupational asthma is not always straightforward, as it presents with symptoms that are also found in lung diseases, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or even heart disease. If your GP suspects asthma, they will examine a number of areas.
These can include:
Where asthma is diagnosed, your GP will be able to help you to determine the cause. If attacks or symptoms are experienced primarily at work, then steps need to be taken to reduce your exposure to harmful causes. You will be asked in for regular checkups and you will likely be given drug therapy to help prevent, or alleviate symptoms.
The treatment of asthma at work revolves primarily around a management regime. Avoiding known triggers and taking a number of medications. The medications used to treat asthma come in two general classes: quick-relief medications to treat acute symptoms; and long-term control medications to prevent further exacerbation. These medications are commonly provided as metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) with a spacer or dry powder inhaler. The spacer is often a plastic cylinder that mixes the medication with air so that it can be more easily inhaled; allowing the user to receive a full dose of the drug. In some cases, a nebulizer may also be used. Spacers and nebulizers are equally effective in treating mild to moderate symptoms.
Where occupational asthma is unresponsive to normal medications, other treatments are available for managing attacks and preventing flare-ups. In the event of an asthma attack, oxygen can be used to alleviate hypoxia if saturations fall below 92%. Magnesium sulfate used as an intravenous treatment provides a bronchodilating effect when used in combination with other treatments, Heliox, a mixture of helium and oxygen, may also be considered in severe unresponsive cases.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, require employers to prevent or to control exposures to hazardous substances to protect employees’ health. The Health and Safety Executive also provides an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) for the control of substances that can cause occupational asthma.
Employers are also bound to a variety of other legislative pieces that clearly define their legal duty of care to their employees. Generally speaking, it is their responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for staff. Where this is not possible Personal Protective Equipment and training must be issued to reduce these risks as much as is practically possible. Where such care is not provided, the employer is being negligent in their duties.
These legal obligations are very clear, so if you fall victim to asthma at work as a result of their negligence, they are liable to pay compensation to make amends. Occupational asthma is frustrating at the least, and debilitating in severe cases. This will have negative consequences for your day-to-day life, as well as for your performance at work. For these reasons, it is imperative that you begin a claim for occupational asthma compensation as soon as you feel that you might be affected.
You should speak with a specialist industrial disease solicitor so that they can begin compiling a case. If you instruct Asons solicitors to handle your claim, we will collate all of the required evidence and medical proof to substantiate your claim whilst providing expert support and advice throughout the process; saving you from all the hard work.
We’ve dealt with a variety of occupational asthma claims in the past and so we understand how difficult it can be for sufferers to take this important and decisive step.
If you have contracted occupational asthma as a result of working with your current employer, you should contact us. We can refer you to a specialist who can diagnose you and document the extent of your injury for our records. You should then speak to your employer to ensure that your role has been made safe enough for you to continue working. A review of your role and workspace should be completed to identify any issues or problem areas so that new equipment can be offered to prevent further exposure that may trigger acute symptoms or attacks.
Some occupations and roles are at greater risk than other, these include:
So if you present with the previously described symptoms, particularly at work, and you are employed in a profession relating to those above, you may well have occupational asthma.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides plenty of helpful information for both employers and victims of occupational asthma. It provides brochures and printed material for use in the work place as well as guides and checklists for ensuring employee safety. You may also wish to visit Asthma UK.
We pride ourselves on our provision of first-class legal advice and support. Our team of specialist occupational asthma solicitors have a wealth of expertise, and knowledge, that you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For free, expert advice on pursuing an occupational asthma claim, speak to us today.
If you would like to make a claim you can fill out our claim form to your right. Alternatively, please use our contact details below.
As with any claim, you may be worried about the potential costs of pursuing your case. We have a variety of options available that will help you; and we will aid you in acquiring all the assistance you are entitled to whilst managing any resulting compensation in the most beneficial way possible. You need to be quick however, as there are time limits in place for making claims of this kind.