Telford Occupational Health Service

Occupational Asthma


Occupational asthma is an important occupational health problem with serious implications for both affected individuals and their employers. Employers are required under The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 [COSHH] and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 [MHSW] to make an assessment of risks in the workplace of any hazardous substances used.

Substances known as asthmagens or respiratory sensitisers cause occupational asthma. Some examples include Isocyanates, rosin-based solder flux fumes, and acrylate adhesives. All carry the label R42 on their safety data sheets from suppliers.

Damage to individuals could be limited and costs for employers largely avoided by adopting the appropriate preventative and control strategies required by the Regulations, and by the early identification of individual cases arising from both known and previously unrecognised causes of occupational asthma.

Where the results of a company's risk assessment indicates that there is significant risk to health from an 'asthmagen', then health surveillance is considered appropriate under COSHH Regulation 11. To determine the most appropriate level of health surveillance will require the advice of an occupational health professional.

TOHS can provide appropriate advice and initiate a health surveillance programme using spirometry [lung function] testing as a screening technique used to detect indications of a disease, or effects, resulting from exposure to 'asthamgens'. This identification ensures appropriate follow-up remedial action in the workplace and any necessary advice or medical referral of the individual.

The respiratory health surveillance programme follows best recommended practice which, consists of a pre-exposure health assessment [including a detailed questionnaire that allows the health professional to establish suitability for work with the 'asthmagen' through obtaining a detailed medical history], and baseline function testing prior to exposure to the 'asthmagen'.

A fitness to work declaration will be issued. This is then followed by a schedule of repeat lung function tests and questionnaires at 6 and 12 weeks.

Regular monitoring follows, which includes an annual lung function test and questionnaire.

More frequent testing may be required if abnormalities are detected or exposure conditions change.

As well as reaching a conclusion on the cause of the asthma, a medical referral via the individual's General Practitioner and subsequent liaison with TOHS doctors provides an opportunity to consider whether the individual should be advised to continue to work in their current environment.

In exceptional circumstances a TOHS medical officer may indicate to the employer that an individual is no longer fit for their current employment if there are specific requirements for the job in question.

TOHS will maintain the records resulting from the programme for at least 40 years from the last date of entry and can provide companies with statistical data on the results of lung function tests on their workforce. This information may be used to evaluate the overall effectiveness of any control programme.

 

Occupational Health Centre, Halesfield 13, Telford, Shropshire TF7 4PL
Tel/Fax: 01952 581251 email: mw@tohs.co.uk