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EmployersWednesday 08 January 2020

Employers Monitor Asthma Risks—Is Your Workplace Doing Enough?

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research, only 19% of relevant employers are taking appropriate action to curtail asthmagen risks. Occupational asthma can occur particularly in the woodworking, baking and motor vehicle repair sectors, although these are only a few examples, yet disconcertingly the level of health surveillance is not yet sufficient to ensure employee wellbeing in the majority of cases.

Occupational Asthma is a greater problem than it first appears, with three thousand cases being reported annually, and too often the common perception of the condition undersells its potential severity. Breathing in certain dusts, gasses, fumes and vapours can seriously damage the lungs, particularly in the case of asthma sufferers. An asthma attack occurs when the pathways of the lungs become obstructed, resulting in hacking coughs, tightness around the chest, and breathlessness. More serious attacks can leave a person unable to work for long periods or in need of urgent medical attention.

In the HSE study telephone interviews were held with 457 organisations, of which only 27% of motor repair enterprises, 52% of woodworking enterprises, and 62% of bakeries had recognised conditions that may be detrimental to an employee at risk from Occupational Asthma. Equivalent statistics from prior research reported percentages even lower than those recorded here.

Notably, the research revealed that smaller enterprises were doing considerably less to manage the risks than their medium and large sized counterparts. The costs of these surveillances were considered too much of a burden to undertake.

There are many things an employer can do to establish a safer work environment for asthma sufferers. The Asthma At Work—Your Charter leaflet on the HSE Asthma Advice page sets out five strategies that can be immediately taken to assuage these risks. It also recommends establishing a framework detailing how asthma risks can be promptly identified, recorded, and resolved by management and stakeholders.

Firstly, both employers and employees can attain a more thorough understanding of the causes of asthma attacks and do a more stringent job of recognising them in the workplace. It is both the legal duty of, and beneficial to, the employer to ensure that health and safety needs are acknowledged and mitigated. While it is certainly impossible in many cases to eliminate the presence of air pollutants entirely, such as in the case of flour dust in a bakery, strategies should be developed to manage the levels of irritants, perfume, chemicals and fumes in the working environment.

Secondly, a system of surveillance should be implemented to monitor the effects of airborne pollutants and irritants. This can take the form of a regular questionnaire delivered to at-risk employees, but businesses with more challenging environments for asthma sufferers should consider acquiring lung-function tests. Retaining a wealth of relevant information from HSE or a third party Health and Safety organisation should supply the workplace with easily-accessible information on asthma prevention.

Thirdly, employers should develop an immediate response strategy to any adverse reactions that take place on-site. This should take into account whether medical attention is needed, whether the employee needs to be removed from the contaminated environment, and whether any tools, equipment or immediate changes to the situation can be enacted. The fourth step is that these measures should be common knowledge amongst the employees in the proximity to at-risk members of staff.

Finally, it is essential to ensure that employees understand the ways in which they could potentially put themselves and others at risk. Asthma attacks do not manifest uniformly and two at-risk employees may experience symptoms in different ways. In these cases, sufficient training needs to be supplied so that all stakeholders in the business are aware of the potential impacts of poor control of asthmagens in the workplace.


If you have suffered a health problem because of the negligence of your employer, please contact Swindon Accident Solicitors on 01793 425595 for a FREE, no obligation consultation on how to make a claim for compensation.


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