Work Related Asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder that affects the airways, causing the muscles surrounding the airway to tighten, and the lining of the airway passage to swell. This in turn reduces the amount of air that can be passed through the airway, resulting in shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, and can in some circumstances become dangerous.
Approximately 10% of adult onset asthma is attributable to conditions of the workplace. There are two categories of asthma that can arise from unfavourable working conditions; “Work Aggravated Asthma” and “Occupational Asthma”.
Work Aggravated Asthma
Work Aggravated Asthma occurs when those who have a history of asthma suffer from an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks as a result of over-exposure to irritants, fumes, vapours or gases in the workplace. It can also occur as a result of excessive physical exertion or from exposure to cold temperatures in the work environment.
Occupational Asthma arises as a result of direct exposure in the workplace. “Irritant Induced Occupational Asthma” develops after a single, high exposure to an irritant, such as ammonia, acid,dust or smoke. The symptoms of this type of occupational asthma usually manifest within 24 hours of exposure to an irritant and if exposure is not reduced, these symptoms tend to persist until measures are put in place to improve working conditions. “Allergic Occupational Asthma” occurs when those who are exposed to a certain agent over a long period of time develop allergies resulting in respiratory problems.
Exposure to the following substances can result in both Work Aggravated Asthma and Occupational Asthma;
- Flour/grain/ hay used in milling and baking;
- Latex Gloves used in healthcare and laboratories;
- Isocyanates which are used in foam manufacture and vehicle spray painting;
- Wood dusts common in furniture manufacture, woodwork, saw milling;
- Chromium compounds used in welding steel;
- Hair Dyes;
- Cobalt in hard metal production and diamond polishing;
- Penicillin and cephalosporin used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals;
- Subtilisin/enzymes used in the manufacture of detergents.
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Employer’s Duties to provide a Healthy Working Environment
Employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace environment, by ensuring that adequate protection is provided to reduce exposure to harmful substances. The case of Dalton v Frendo  holds that “the duty of an employer towards a servant is to take reasonable care for the servant’s safety in all circumstances of the case”.
An employer’s duty of care to his employees entails the following;
1. Provision of a safe place of work;
2. Provision of safe and adequate equipment;
3. Provision of a safe system of work;
4. Provision of competent staff.
Where there has been a failure to ensure that the above provisions are in place, an employer may be found liable in negligence. Where an employer fails to remove an unnecessary risk in the workplace, and/or fails to ensure that adequate warnings and safe systems of work are in place, he may be liable if an employee is injured or develops health issues throughout the course of their employment.
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If you have developed work-related asthma throughout the course of your employment, you may be entitled to seek the cost of your medical expenses, loss of earnings, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.
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