Occupational asthma cases vastly under-reported

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Occupation-related asthma accounts for at least 200 workers’ compensation claims per year in Australia. However, occupational physician, Dr. Peter Jezukaitis says that many cases go unreported, meaning the number could be much higher, possibly in the thousands.

“The airways can become reactive to an allergen or irritant at work that causes asthma symptoms. This can happen to someone with existing asthma but in some cases, an adult can experience asthma for the first time due to high exposures or certain triggers in the workplace. Occupational asthma can be hard to spot and accurately diagnose, but needs to be more commonly thought of by workers and health care professionals.”

According to the 2015 Hidden Cost of Asthma report from Asthma Australia, asthma cost employers $526.7m, mainly due to temporary absenteeism.

Recognising and managing triggers in the workplace could help to reduce this cost, prevent asthma episodes, improve productivity and help businesses retain employees.

Dr. Jezukaitis says there are many factors that trigger asthma.

“Triggers in the workplace are varied. There is a list of over 400 different chemicals known to cause or exacerbate asthma including cleaning products, hardeners in paint and even hairdressing products. There are also other triggers such as pollen for those working outdoors, latex and antiseptics in health care, and even wheat flour dust in bakeries.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to identify hazards, assess and manage risks including exposures that cause asthma. Employees should keep workers aware of exposures and their adverse health effects in the workplace. Greater OH&S training is needed for workplaces and the community. A safe workplace for people with asthma is a safe workplace for everyone.”

Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Australia said that people with asthma need to understand that the work environment may have an effect on their condition, and this should be put into consideration when administering treatment.

Ms. Goldman said: “The important thing for people with asthma is to ask themselves the question, ‘is my asthma worse at work?’ Asthma may flare up if something changes in the workplace such as working with different materials or entering a new working environment. It’s really important that people with asthma are vigilant about potential triggers and also that health professionals are considering workplace factors when treating people with asthma.”

Asthma Australia provides asthma first aid training to schools and workplaces.

Ms. Goldman said; “Today we announce the merger of 5 different asthma entities to form a unified health charity, Asthma Australia Ltd. Our aim is to combine our collective resources to build on our work in training and community support services and help even more people with asthma. This includes reaching more schools, workplaces and community settings to make them safer places for people with asthma.”

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