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Breathing in certain dusts, gases, fumes and vapours within the workplace can cause asthma. Asthma is a very serious health problem that can ruin lives. Shortness of breath, wheezing and painful coughing are just some of the symptoms that occupational asthma sufferers may have to deal with every day.

Occupational asthma is an allergic reaction that can occur in some people when they are exposed to substances, for example flour or wood dust in the workplace.

These substances are called 'respiratory sensitisers' or asthmagens. They can cause a change in people’s airways, known as the 'hypersensitive state'.

Not everyone who becomes sensitised goes on to get asthma. But once the lungs become hypersensitive, further exposure to the substance, even at quite low levels, may trigger an attack.

Work-related asthma or asthma made worse by work is broader and includes substances in the workplace that irritate the airways of individuals with pre-existing asthma. This includes people who have had asthma since childhood. Respiratory irritants may trigger attacks in those with occupational asthma or pre-existing asthma. Examples include chlorine, general dust and even cold air.

If a claim is to be successfully pursued for an asthmatic condition it is necessary to demonstrate that the workplace was to blame for the condition developing on the basis either that substances at work have aggravated a pre-existing asthma or they have caused the asthma. 

Workplace Causes of Occupational Asthma

There are a variety of possible causes. For instance:

  • isocyanides

  • flour

  • grain

  • hay

  • soldering flux / welding fumes

  • wood dusts

  • some glues and resins

  • paint fumes

  • urethanes

  • varnishes

  • foams

  • certain animal substances

  • cotton flax

  • compost

  • hemp dust

The Duties of an Employer

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) set out specific standards that an employer must meet when requiring an employee to work with substances that can cause asthma. Breach of these standards would form the basis for an employee to commence a claim for occupational asthma.

It is firstly necessary to establish (by obtaining medical evidence) the precise nature of the condition that is causing your breathing difficulties. Asthma can be caused by factors outside the workplace, for instance, allergies to house dust mites. In order to progress a claim for damages, it will be necessary to demonstrate by medical evidence that the condition is caused or aggravated by negligent exposure to hazardous substances at work, or as a result of exposure to hazardous substances in breach of COSHH Regulations.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with occupational asthma, please telephone us for further information or for a free, no obligation discussion on 028 9024 3901 or contact us online using the contact us form.