Occupational asthma rates could be vastly under-reported

Friday, 20 October, 2017

Occupational asthma rates could be vastly under-reported

Occupation-related asthma accounts for at least 200 workers compensation claims every year, but it is thought that the illness is vastly under-reported.

In addition, the 2015 Hidden Cost of Asthma report from Asthma Australia found that asthma cost employers $526.7m, mainly due to temporary absenteeism.

Early diagnosis and eliminating or managing common triggers in workplaces could help the one in nine Australians who have asthma.

“The airways can become reactive to an allergen or irritant at work that causes asthma symptoms. This can happen to someone with existing asthma but in some cases an adult can experience asthma for the first time due to high exposures or certain triggers in the workplace. Occupational asthma can be hard to spot and accurately diagnose, but needs to be more commonly thought of by workers and healthcare professionals,” said occupational physician Dr Peter Jezukaitis.

Recognising and managing triggers in the workplace could help to reduce this cost, prevent asthma episodes, improve productivity and help businesses retain employees.

Triggers in the workplace are varied, with a list of over 400 different chemicals known to cause or exacerbate asthma. These include cleaning products, hardeners in paint and even hairdressing products. There are also other triggers such as pollen for those working outdoors, latex and antiseptics in health care and wheat flour dust in bakeries.

“Employers have a duty of care to their employees to identify hazards, assess and manage risks including exposures that cause asthma,” said Jezukaitis.

“Employees should keep workers aware of exposures and their adverse health effects in the workplace. Greater OH&S training is needed for workplaces and the community. A safe workplace for people with asthma is a safe workplace for everyone.”

Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Australia, said it is important that people with asthma understand that their working environment may have an effect on their asthma, and to discuss this with their doctor as part of the recommended annual asthma review.

“The important thing for people with asthma is to ask themselves the question, “Is my asthma worse at work?” Asthma may flare up if something changes in the workplace such as working with different materials or entering a new working environment. It’s really important that people with asthma are vigilant about potential triggers and also that health professionals are considering workplace factors when treating people with asthma,” said Goldman.

Five different asthma entities have now merged to form a unified health charity, Asthma Australia Ltd. The aim of the organisation is to combine collective resources to build on work training and community support services, and provide greater assistance to people with asthma. This includes reaching more schools, workplaces and community settings to make them safer places for people with asthma.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/WavebreakmediaMicro

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