Work-related asthma: What you need to know

March 28, 2021

More than 300. That’s how many known triggers can be found in the workplace that cause or worsen asthma, according to NIOSH. These triggers include:

  • Animal dander
  • Dust mites
  • Metal dust
  • Strong fumes
  • Wood smoke
  • Chemical vapors

Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness are some asthma symptoms workers may experience after exposure. These symptoms often disappear when workers are away from the jobsite. 

“Worsening asthma or new onset asthma in a worker should raise questions about workplace causes,” NIOSH says. “Asthma symptoms can develop shortly after exposure, or they can develop months or years after repeated exposures to harmful substances.”

To create a safe working environment for workers with asthma, employers should use the Hierarchy of Controls. This involves eliminating the triggers, installing controls to shield workers, implementing practices or policies to reduce exposures, and training workers on precautions to take. 

Providing workers with personal protective equipment is the final step.

Employees with work-related asthma should:

  • Identify and avoid workplace exposures.
  • Report any new or worsening conditions to the employer and a doctor.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Quit smoking, if they do so. 
  • Take medications as prescribed.