World Asthma Day

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Anthony Waddington

Partner, Industrial Disease Claims

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World Asthma Day is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), a World Health Organisation who work to improve the lives of people with asthma globally. World Asthma Day is held in May each year to raise awareness of asthma worldwide. Today we discuss how common asthma is in the UK, and the surprising statistics in relation to occupational/work-related asthma.

GINA chose ‘Asthma Care For All’ as their focus for World Asthma Day. Asthma affects the lifestyle and life expectancy of those in low- and middle-income countries the most, and GINA work to strengthen links with guideline makers to improve asthma care for people globally.

a lumberjack cutting a tree stump with a chainsaw

While we have excellent standards of healthcare and asthma care in the UK, work-related asthma (asthma that is either caused or made worse by work) still remains a serious issue for many people in the UK. Asthma can be caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to allergens or irritants at work – it can come on suddenly if your exposure to a substance was particularly strong, or it can develop slowly over time.

For us at Simpson Millar, the World Asthma Day theme of “Asthma Care For All” extends to the duty of care UK employers owe to their employees to protect them from developing asthma, or being exposed to substances that make asthma symptoms worse.

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If you have suffered from asthma that has been caused or exacerbated by your work, we may be able to help you claim compensation.

Asthma in the Workplace

There are two types of work-related asthma:

  • Work aggravated asthma, which is when someone’s pre-existing or constitutional asthma condition is made worse by factors in the workplace.
  • Occupational asthma, which occurs in people who have never had asthma before but develop asthma due to exposure to substances/chemicals at work.

People who work in industries such as baking, painting, woodwork, engineering or agriculture are particularly at risk of occupational asthma. The most common causes of occupational asthma are flour/grain from the baking industry and isocyanates (from spraying paint e.g., in motor vehicle repairs).

Other irritants that can trigger asthma within the workplace include:

  • Metal dust
  • Pollen
  • Strong fumes
  • Animal dander
  • Dust from grain, wood, and flour
  • Indoor dampness

Getting an Asthma Diagnosis

If you have work-related asthma, you may notice that your symptoms decrease during weekends and holidays, or other times when you are away from your working environment. Although, for some people their asthma doesn’t show any signs of improvement until they have been away from work for an extended period of time.

If you think that you could have work-related asthma, you should first see your GP and explain your symptoms. You should also talk to your doctor about any exposure to irritants at work and what you think the triggers are, such as the materials you use.

You may find it helpful to record your symptoms and when they occur to find any patterns.

Your doctor may carry out a physical examination to determine whether or not you have work-related asthma. This may include blood tests and breathing tests.

work-related asthma

How Common is Work-Related Asthma?

You may be surprised by the fact that around 1 in 10 cases of asthma in UK adults are thought to be caused by work-related factors.

There are several risk factors when it comes to work-related asthma. How intense your exposure is, will affect your chances of developing asthma. But you will be at an increased risk if you have pre-existing allergies, if asthma runs in your family, if you work around known asthma triggers, or you smoke.

Occupational asthma has been diagnosed more in recent years – but the government have said that the statistics on the amount of people being diagnosed are an underestimatation of the true scale of undiagnosed work-related asthma.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the reporting of new cases, and likely had an impact on people visiting the GP or mistaking asthma symptoms for Coronavirus symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.

If you think there’s a chance you could have work-related asthma, keep reading to see what your workplace should have done to prevent this, and how our lawyers could help you claim compensation if your employer failed in the duty of care that they owed to you.

High-Risk Occupations for Asthma

Whilst you can develop work-related asthma in almost any workplace, there are some industries where the risk is greater. Here’s a list of some of the key occupations that are at an increased risk of developing occupational asthma:

  • Hairdressers
  • Animal handlers
  • Bakers
  • Millers
  • Metal workers
  • Pharmaceutical workers
  • Chemical manufacturers
  • Carpet-makers
  • Food production workers
  • Adhesive handlers

What Should My Workplace Do to Protect Me From Asthma?

Your workplace has a legal responsibility to prevent and control your exposure to dangerous substances, as per the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Some of these substances are invisible or have very small particles, like flour, paint, wood or animal fur, and it may surprise you to know how much of a danger they can be to your health.

Your workplace is responsible for not only taking proactive measures to stop you from developing illnesses and allergies at work, but also making sure any symptoms do not get worse. For example, they must:

  • Carry out health and safety risk assessments, identifying any dangerous substances e.g., flour in a bakery or paint in car manufacturing.
  • Provide you with the appropriate Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) e.g., masks.
  • Ensure they provide sufficient health and safety training on the use of potentially dangerous substances or machinery.
  • Safely store chemicals.
  • Implement controls such as no smoking policies to reduce the risk of exposure.

The government have published specific guidance about how you can protect yourself from asthma in your particular trade, and what your workplace’s responsibilities are.

a baker rolling out dough

What Can I Do If I Think I Have Work-Related Asthma?

If you believe there is a chance your workplace has either caused your asthma, or made your pre-existing asthma symptoms worse, we would advise you to first report your symptoms to your manager and visit your GP about your concerns. Your doctor will be able to carry out allergy tests and assess your symptoms to make a diagnosis.

The symptoms of asthma can be debilitating and even life-threatening – once you are ‘sensitised’ to a particular substance, there is a risk of your symptoms reoccurring or getting worse over time, especially if you continue to be exposed. Severe occupational asthma often has no cure and even a small amount of exposure to a substance can trigger future attacks.

You shouldn’t have to suffer from these consequences and should be compensated if your employer could have taken steps to prevent you from developing asthma or ensure your existing asthma did not get worse. You may have had to give up your job and there may be long term damage to your lungs, meaning you’re unable to exercise or carry out your hobbies in the way you used to.

Can I Lose My Job If I Get Work-Related Asthma?

If you develop occupational asthma, you may need to change your job role within the company that you work for, to keep away from any triggers. Depending on the job, you may need to switch jobs altogether, if you can’t move away from the irritants or triggers.

It’s understandable to be concerned about losing your job following a diagnosis of asthma. But you should try speaking with your employer as soon as you notice your symptoms. Your union representative may also be able to help support you during this time, especially if you have any questions about how your employer should handle this type of situation.

To avoid having to leave your job altogether, you could enquire about moving to a different role to reduce your exposure. Alternatively, it may be possible to replace any products that you use that are triggering your asthma for safer options. Lastly, your work may be able to provide you with PPE/RPE to prevent you from inhaling any irritant substances.

How We Can Help

Our specialist Industrial Disease lawyers are highly knowledgeable on the law around workplace responsibility and are here to help you make a claim for compensation for work-related asthma or work aggravated asthma. We usually deal with Industrial Disease claims on a No Win, No Fee basis meaning you won’t pay us a penny unless we win your case – just ask us for details.

We can get the help of an independent medical expert and will work hard to prove your condition was linked to your working environment.

Occupation Asthma Compensation may help you recover any lost earnings and may also help you access any future support you may need to manage your symptoms. If you sadly cannot return to your previous career because of your asthma, we may also be able to help you claim costs to retrain into a new industry.

We can also advise you about accessing government benefits which are available to people suffering from occupational asthma. To see whether you could make a claim, get in touch with our expert team for a no-obligation Free Case Assessment where you can tell us about your situation, and we’ll advise on the next steps.

References: (n.d.). Occupational asthma | Asthma + Lung UK. [online] Available at:

Mayo Clinic (2018). Occupational asthma - Symptoms and causes. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: (2019). Work-related Asthma | NIOSH | CDC. [online] Available at:

Anthony Waddington

Partner, Industrial Disease Claims

Areas of Expertise:
Industrial Disease

Anthony is a Partner in our Industrial Disease department and specialises in high value Industrial Disease Claims.

He joined Simpson Millar as a Paralegal in 2006, and completed his training contract three years later, working in Simpson Millar's Industrial Disease, Civil Litigation and Personal Injury departments.

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