Is It Possible To Make Occupational Asthma Claims?


The Law Of… Breathing With Ease

5.4 million people live with asthma in the UK, meaning 1 in 11 people have this common lung condition. If you suffer from asthma because of your work or workplace, you could be entitled to make an occupational asthma claim.

Industrial Disease specialist, Phillip Gower, takes a look at how asthma can develop from within the workplace and explains how employees can make occupational asthma claims.

What Is Occupational Asthma?

Asthma itself is a lung condition that causes breathing difficulties. Occupational asthma is where asthma has been caused by someone's working environment. Exposure to certain airborne substances can cause asthma suddenly, or it can develop months later.

Occupational asthma can also be the exacerbation of a condition that already exists. It is common for people to assume the cause has come from elsewhere rather than their place of work. However, Asthma UK claims 1 in 10 cases of adult asthma are caused by work-related factors.

What Are The Common Causes Of Occupational Asthma?

There is a long list of substances that can cause occupational asthma. They are known as asthmagens. They don't appear in all workplaces and some industry employees are more at risk than others due to the nature of work they carry out.

There are two types of occupational asthma. They are allergic occupational asthma and irritant-induced occupational asthma.

Allergic occupational asthma is the more common of the two. It is caused by the person having an allergic reaction to allergens in the workplace.

It is possible to develop this type of occupational asthma after years of doing the same job because it can sometimes take a long time for your immune system to become sensitive to an allergen.

Jobs with the highest rates of allergic occupational asthma include:

  • Vehicle spray painting – isocyanate
  • Baking – flour dust
  • Woodwork – sanded or machined wood dust
  • Soldering – rosin-based fumes
  • Healthcare - latex and/or diathemy
  • Working with animals – animal fur, feathers, dried urine, saliva dusts, animal faeces
  • Agriculture – grain dust, bacteria, endotoxins, mites, animal faeces, plant dust, soil, feed, chemicals
  • Engineering – metal working fluids
  • Hairdressing – bleach (persulphate)

Irritant-induced occupational asthma is less common, but has the same outcome as allergic occupational asthma. This sort of asthma usually develops after an accidental chemical spillage in the workplace.

The types of irritant chemicals that can cause irritant-induced occupational asthma include:

  • Chlorine
  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • Tobacco smoke

What Are The Symptoms Of Occupational Asthma?

There are a few symptoms of asthma to look out for if you are concerned you have developed it. The severity of the symptoms vary from person to person and they usually come and go.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • A tight chest
  • Coughing

The symptoms can sometimes become temporarily worse which is known as an asthma attack.

With occupational asthma, there are some early warning signs to look out for particularly if you work in an environment where you are more likely to develop it. If you nose is persistently itchy, running or you find yourself constantly sneezing for more than a couple of weeks, this could be a sign of occupational asthma.

If you do have any of these symptoms, it is important to seek professional medical advice. A GP will be able to discuss with you what could be causing your asthma and they may be able to help you determine if you are at risk at work.

Is There A Way To prevent Occupational Asthma?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) requires employers to minimise exposure to substances that could cause occupational asthma, to protect their employees' health. They must assess the risk of exposure and consider the substitution of harmful substances with ones that are less harmful.

If you are developing signs of occupational asthma, you should speak with your employer to see if changes can be made to your job to make it safer for you.

You should also:

  • Avoid contact with the substance that’s triggering asthma symptoms
  • Take medicines for asthma as prescribed
  • Fill in an asthma action plan with your GP or asthma nurse that will tell you what to do if your asthma becomes exacerbated

Can I Employees Make Occupational Asthma Claims?

If you employer doesn’t put acceptable measures in place to prevent you from developing occupational asthma, or to protect you from an exacerbated condition, they could be liable to pay you compensation for damages caused.

Your employer should:

  • Conduct health surveys
  • Report cases of occupational asthma to a central point
  • Isolate employees from the process linked to the risk of asthma
  • Provide respiratory protective equipment and provide training on the use of such equipment

If you think you have developed asthma or your asthma has been made worse by your workplace, it's important to seek legal advice on how to go about claiming.

Phillip comments:

"Asthma can be extremely dangerous and with so many people in the UK suffering from this lung condition, it is so important that employees are protected as much as is possible."

"If you think you're developing asthma, speak to your employer. They might be able to make some small changes that could prevent the situation from getting worse. It could also protect your colleagues from also developing occupational asthma."

"To make occupational asthma claims can be complex. It is important to gather evidence of your breathing condition and employment history. At Simpson Millar we have many years' experience of industrial disease claims and can provide a specialist approach to occupational asthma claims."

Our Industrial Disease team are on the end of the phone for a free initial consultation that could provide you with the information you need for your occupational asthma claim.

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