Occupational asthma

hello,can any of you good people help?-I am putting out ""feelers""at work about getting some kind of official definition of whether or not I should be classified as having occupational asthma or,at least,work-aggravated asthma-my own asthma problems started the same week that I was moved to a different part of the factory-our factory uses many different solvents and chemicals and although I no longer work in the same part of plant,I am still being ""exposed""to various chemicals that ,I believe,are causing irritation(Ive lost count of the number of times that I have thrown-up at work.If any of you have gone through a formal procedure of being diagnosed through your gp or works occupational dept I would love to hear any problems you had or whether it was a simple process.

Thanks for any help


8 Replies

  • If you are able to change jobs I would get out now. GP/Occ Health etc will attempt to manage your symptoms within the work environment. What they probably won't tell you is that you risk becoming permanently disabled. I wish I had found another job as soon as I started experiencing symptoms - at that time I was ill at work and OK elsewhere. I kept going in for another 3 months while going through the OH process, medics all told me to keep going in to the environment which was making me worse. Eventually I had a major attack and I am still not recovered - this was more than 12 months ago. Going from perfectly healthy and earning a good salary to disabled and on Incapacity Benefit is an awful experience, and one to avoid if at all possible.

    Useful website 'http://www.occupationalasthma.com/'. The Health and Safety exec also has some information on their website.

  • Thanks Alison,I have read through some of the HSE stuff-my union rep is notoriously reluctant to get involved in anything that might involve him in disputes with our management-but thats another tale,which is why Im trying to research things myself.I do face a big dilemma in that I actually like my job-I realise that should come 2nd to my well-being and I do have the problem that nowhere else pays as well locally,again money shouldnt come before health but until the mortgage is paid off in about 2 years ,I feel I will probably have to soldier on the best I can but with some kind of ""protection""in case I get worse.I will have a look at the occupational asthma web site that you mentioned.

    Thanks once again.


  • I am writing this on behalf of my wife. She has found it very difficult to get anyone to actually confirm that she has occupational asthma but after nearly 3 years she may now be getting somewhere. ( she has succeeded in claiming industrial injuries disablement benefit for occupational asthma.)

    You will probably find that that your employer will not be too keen to cooperate over any tests as if occupational asthma is diagnosed they will have to report it under RIDDOR (for further details see HSE website).

    Liz was told at a meeting with her employer that they were going to send her for some tests over two years ago but at that time it did not happen.

    She also suffers from epilepsy and there have also been issues related to this.

    Liz raised a grievance with her employers over a number of issues, only one of which is still outstanding and is currently on hold with an employment tribunal. This relates to a loss of ten hours which were due to her not being able to do part of her job. She is better now than she was and wants to try returning to her original hours.

    While dealing with the appeal over the grievance the new chief executive became aware of the issues relating to both asthma and epilepsy and asked occupational health to arrange for some tests. Liz was finally told at a meeting in connection with this that she has occupational asthma and is hoping that this will be put in writing to her employer. It is certainly not a quick process as she had a long wait for the tests and has now been waiting over a month for the report.

    Liz is currently at home on full pay because of issues to do with the epilepsy. Part of the problem is that some members of the staff say that they do not want to work with her because of the epilepsy. In 4 years with the company the time she has spent at home because they stopped her for various reasons has totalled well over a year.

    Hope you get your problems sorted out reasonably quickly. Liz likes her job and wants to get back to work

  • Hi bluejam. Try keeping a diary. Record everytime a solvent is used and every time you have an asthma attack. Solvents are an horrendous problem with me. I wouls spend my life in a&e if working in that situation. Keeping the diary has 2 purposes, it means you can work out if there is any relation to th solvents and your asthma attacks and you also have a record than can be taken to your union rep and occupational health. Let us know how you get on.Ange

  • Hi bluejam. Try keeping a diary. Record everytime a solvent is used and every time you have an asthma attack. Solvents are an horrendous problem with me. I wouls spend my life in a&e if working in that situation. Keeping the diary has 2 purposes, it means you can work out if there is any relation to th solvents and your asthma attacks and you also have a record than can be taken to your union rep and occupational health. Let us know how you get on.Ange

  • I know that dilemma - you have a job you love, good salary, financial commitments and finding another job is a huge step. But if it is Occupational Asthma then you are unlikely to be able to keep your existing job long term anyway - unfortunately protective equipment isn't terribly effective and the only real solution is to separate the person and the environment. Could you do your existing job from another location ? If not, then your employer may have to offer you an alternative position and if you chose not to take it, off you go. Also, you may be thinking that you'll get gradually worse and be able to get out before too much damage is done. Not necessarily true - I went into work at 9:30 as usual, one hour's exposure later my career was over. There is good evidence that a single exposure to the 'wrong' substance can cause permanent damage if you are unlucky enough to be susceptible. Isn't it better to find another job even if it pays less, where you are comfortable and stand a good chance of making it through to retirement ? The chances of becoming permanently disabled are not high, but do you really want to take the gamble when it could ruin the rest of your life ?

  • Occupational asthma

    Thanks for your replies Alison,would it be too cheeky of me to enquire what was the severity of your bad attack and how did your GP/Occupational dept deal with it which led you to go onto disability status-my first incidence of asthma was so bad I couldnt even use the phone to ring for help due to my breathing difficulties-I just thought I had a very bad cold!!.If you prefer toreply via my profile e-mail that will be fine.



  • In brief, I stated having breathing difficulties in the May after the company moved us into new offices. I went to see my GP who said I was reacting to an unknown irritant in the new environment, gave me ventolin, and said to come back if I had more problems. I had a week off sick, went back in, same thing happened again. Arranged to work from home while waiting for Occ heath and consultant referral. Saw an allergy specialist, tested negative for allergies, she suggested it could be occupational asthma and to go back in and take serial peak flow readings. Occ Health agreed, said to go back in and they'd review after 6 weeks. GP gave me antihistamines and nasal steroids as well as the ventolin. So I went back to work, ignored the chest pain, coughing and breathlessness as best I could and started recording the data. Before the 6 weeks were up I went in on Monday morning, suffered severe coughing, breathlessness, chest pain, went off sick again. Saw my GP, got an urgent referral to a respiratory consultant who put me on inhaled steroids, signed off for 6 weeks, chest settled down a bit so I went back in, coughing started almost immediately so back off sick. Back to the respiratory consultant who said 'stay out of the office and find another job'. and keep taking the steroids. Unfortunately, since then I haven't recovered. GP initially said I'd get better in 6 weeks, then it was 6 months, now he says 'we usually get asthma under control eventually' and is looking to refer me to the Royal Brompton. I think what happens is that once you pass a certain level of inflammation it becomes a self-perpetuating condition and it can be really difficult to get under control. It's also really difficult to live with - went to give blood last week and a smoker sat next to me - the second hand smoke on her clothes set me off coughing, I wasn't well enough to give blood and was rough for the rest of the day. Company sick pay only lasts for so long and then you're on incapacity which is peanuts, unless the company has some sort of permanent health insurance scheme. My GP, consultants and Occ Health all behaved appropriately and gave me the officially approved advice - but it didn't stop me ending up with persistent problems.

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