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Occupational Asthma

What is Occupational Asthma?

Occupational asthma is a common lung disorder which is caused by exposure to harmful substances in the workplace such as dust, powders and smoke. A person can start suffering with asthma at any time of life and as well as being a hereditary condition, it can also be caused by a person’s lifestyle and environment. Asthma can result in a person requiring medication to treat the asthma for the rest of their lives or alternatively it may lessen over time.


Sufferers will experience inflammation of the air passages which can lead to swelling and narrowing of passages resulting in breathlessness. Other common symptoms include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and difficulty exercising.

Factors which are known to worsen asthma are colds and flu viruses, dust, cigarette smoke, animal hairs or pollen.

Occupational asthma normally develops within 6 – 12 months of being exposed to a dangerous substance however it can take up to 20 years to develop.

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Work environment

There are a number of occupations where workers can be particularly at risk of developing work related asthma, such as bakers and flour confectioners, metal workers and vehicle spray painters. Forestry workers, chemical, plastic, rubber and textile workers, electrical and electronic production workers, storage workers, farm workers, waiters, cleaners, painters, dental workers and laboratory technicians are all also potentially at high risk of developing the illness.

Substances known to cause occupational asthma include:

  • Flour and grain dust used in industrial baking, farm work and grain transport.
  • Wood dust – particularly from hard wood dusts and western red cedar – used in carpentry and joinery.
  • Colophony, found in the electronics industry and present in soldering fumes as well as glues and some floor cleaners.
  • Dust from latex rubber usually found in latex gloves used in nursing, catering and dentistry.
  • Animal and insect dust from laboratories and farm work.

Employers are required to take reasonable measures to protect employees exposed to harmful substances such as providing protective equipment or ensuring ventilation is clear. If such steps are not taken and you suffer occupational asthma as a result your employer may be negligible and you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

We recommend that you act urgently if you think you may have occupational asthma as the Limitation Act 1980 states that a claim for compensation may become statute barred if the Claimant’s date of knowledge of the injury and the cause of the injury exceeds three years.