Occupational asthma is asthma that is caused by, or exacerbated by, something in the workplace. This can be anything from excessive dust to chemicals used in the workplace or even off-gassing from the cleaning products used.
I’m sure we’ve all had a reaction at some stage where something makes us cough… imagine that developing into trouble breathing, where your airways constrict and you feel like you’re choking and coughing, and you have some of the symptoms of asthma.
What if these symptoms are caused by something at work? We can’t afford to just stop working, can we? Bills don’t stop if we get sick… and if we are a business owner, the business doesn’t stop either – customers will understand a cold or ‘flu, but something serious and chronic like asthma needs a bit more thought.
The Asthma Foundation have some great information on how to write an asthma management plan, and GPs are also a great resource for information on how to deal with this disease once you have it. Of course, prevention is always going to trump cure, any day!!!
So how do you prevent the onset of occupational asthma? The Department of Workplace Health and Safety have some great information about what some asthma triggers can be, albeit in general terms. Unfortunately, actually identifying the potential triggers, and working out a strategy to reduce these, or if possible, remove them, isn’t always that easy. Your Workplace Health and Safety Officer (if you have one) may be across this subject, but if you work in a specialist industry, chances are very good that your WHSO specialises in the hazards specific to that industry, which may not necessarily include asthma triggers.
One gentleman I worked with recently (John) had a similar issue. He’s a painter – he paints houses and offices for his clients. John knows that you should always try to have good ventilation when painting, but that’s not always possible. He prefers working with no- or low-VOC paints, too, but again, not always possible. John had been having a lot of headaches, and had recently started to develop a bit of a cough when he called me.
Together we looked at John’s working habits, hours, and processes. As with any business, there were specific things that had to be done, and some things that could be improved for efficiency, as well as safety. John and I mapped out what he did when he painted a client’s place – from the initial preparation for the job, right up to completion. John didn’t realise he did so much!!
We were able to work out a few areas that were key to John’s chemical exposure, which was central to his headaches and developing cough. A couple of key areas were dust masks whenever John did any preparation work (he knew about this but didn’t always wear one) and a ziplock bag for John to keep his paint-rags in when not in use (to restrict the fumes) and always replacing lids immediately after using chemicals and paints. There were a few more specific strategies that John will implement to minimise hazards in his workplace, but the plan for WHS is now there for him to continue. I’m glad to report that when I last spoke to John his headache had gone, and so had his cough.
The key things to implement in your workplace are:
- Work out what the hazards, chemicals and potential asthma triggers in your workplace (and travelling to and from that workplace)
- Find ways to remove those hazards, reduce them or replace them with non- or less-toxic alternatives
- Write down your strategy, make it easy to understand and easy to implement – if it’s too difficult, it won’t get done
- Follow through!
- Give me a call if you need help.
Queensland's leading Building Biologist, helping you to detox your home or workplace and achieve a balance between today's busy & techno-dependent life and nature.