Asthma From Exposure In The Workplace

Most people are aware that accidents in the workplace can cause injuries such as strains, sprains, broken bones, cuts, bruises, concussions and even psychological injuries. However, many people may not be aware that conditions such as asthma can begin or exacerbate in the workplace due to exposure to different types of chemicals, fumes or gases.

What is asthma and how will I know if I have it?

Asthma is a condition which affects the respiratory system. It causes the airways to swell and narrow, and in some cases, the individual’s airways can produce additional mucus which makes it more difficult to breathe. Asthma can affect people differently, but symptoms typically include:

  • trouble breathing or shortness of breath;
  • tightness and/or pain in the chest;
  • audibly wheezing upon exhale;
  • coughing, including excessive coughing and/or coughing fits; and
  • difficulty sleeping due to asthma symptoms.

Asthma can be diagnosed by a General Practitioner. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they become a concern, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. Asthma symptoms can also worsen when a person has a cold, flu or COVID-19 or during seasonal changes.

When does asthma become classified as ‘occupational asthma’?

Occupational asthma occurs when asthma is both caused by work and exacerbated by work, meaning prior to the individual commencing this type of work, they did not suffer from asthma. It is estimated that almost a quarter of all adults have asthma which is caused by their work.

How is work-related asthma caused and/or exacerbated?

When workers are exposed to certain compounds which are then inhaled, they can cause asthma symptoms. Some of the compounds that have been described as the causes of work-related asthma and/or work-exacerbated asthma are not necessarily harmful in isolation but can be detrimental to a person’s health in excess. These compounds include flour, milk and egg powders, wheat and coffee bean dust. Other compounds found to be the culprit in work-related and/or work-exacerbated asthma include petrol fumes, latex, animal proteins, wood and metal dust, smoke, mould, adhesives and other chemicals.

What occupations carry a higher risk of work-related asthma?

Some occupations carry a higher risk of causing or exacerbating work-related asthma. Although it is not a guarantee that employment in these roles will cause the worker to develop and/or suffer from asthma, individuals with these jobs should be mindful of the increased risk:

  • veterinarians, farmers and other people who work with animals;
  • bakers, pastry makers and food processors;
  • commercial and domestic cleaners;
  • farmers;
  • hairdressers, nail technicians and other beauty industry workers who use or are exposed to chemicals;
  • installers of insulation;
  • lab technicians;
  • workers in the plastics and foam industries;
  • spray painters;
  • textile workers; and
  • welders, metal workers and woodworkers.

What steps should I take if I have started experiencing the symptoms of work-related asthma?

If you currently work or have previously worked in a job where exposure to harmful particles including the dusts of wood, flour or metal, mould, latex or animal proteins is prevalent, and you are experiencing asthma symptoms you should see your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will be able to advise on the best course of treatment for your condition and suggest steps to take to prevent your symptoms from getting worse. They may recommend protective gear, including a mask or respirator if not already required or available at your place of work.

If the symptoms are causing you to take time off work or making it difficult to continue working you may be able to pursue a claim for workers compensation. If you would like more information on the process for making a claim for compensation, our personal injury lawyers in Cairns can assist.

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