Allergies and asthma may be common conditions but are still often overlooked by building and business owners. Even with regulations and guidelines addressing severe respiratory difficulties and allergies in the workplace, many companies fail to provide a work environment that is reasonably safe and healthy for those affected. Work related allergy and asthma account for about 10% of all asthma cases in the US, while a study reports around 3,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in the UK. The Ministry of Health of Canada reports that 5-15% of adult-onset asthma is caused by work-related exposure to asthma triggers.

Most people who have allergies and asthma know what triggers to avoid and can manage them in environments where they have a wider degree of control such as their homes. The workplace however is a different story – employees do not usually have control over factors such as building materials, work tools and equipment, the ventilation system, location of the building or their work station, and air quality factors among others. Changes in the season are also conditions that can trigger allergies and asthma in the workplace; the hot summer weather means higher temperatures and pollution levels especially in densely-populated urban areas while spring brings high pollen counts that can be brought inside the workplace. Exposure to these factors and conditions can lead to occupational and workplace-exacerbated allergies and asthma.

 

Occupations at Risk for Asthma Onset and Aggravation

Agriculture Manufacturing Office/Commercial/

Hospitality

Healthcare Airport
Poultry and dairy farm workers
Automotive plant workers
Hairdressers, Salon and
spa workers
Laboratory workers
Aircraft fitters
and technicians
Food technologists
Brewery workers
Janitors, housekeeping and
sanitation staff
Pharmacists
Airport cleaners
Meat processing workers
Chemical Plant, Pulp Mill workers
Hospitality and F&B waiters
and staff
Hospital, healthcare facility
janitors and cleaners
Cargo attendants
and staff
Flour and Bread mill /
manufacturing workers
Paint manufacturing workers
Construction workers
Nurses
Security staff
Livestock breeders
Refrigeration industry workers
Landscapers, Groundskeepers
Dentists
Tobacco farmers
Electronics workers
Office administration,
clerical staff
Dental Workers
Plastics manufacturing workers 
Elderly Facility Attendants,
caregivers
Cosmetics Manufacturing workers
Veterinary workers
Cigarette manufacturing workers
Textile Manufacturing workers
Coal Mining Workers
Carpenters, wood workers,
machinists, fabricators
Sources:
https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/asthma.html
https://www.webmd.com/lung/features/risky-jobs-for-your-lungs#2

 

The Cost of work-related Allergy and Asthma

Allergies and asthma impact workplace productivity and increase employee complaints, medical costs and the risk of costly litigations. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergies are among the top three reasons that people miss work and an estimated 3.5 million workdays are lost each year because of it. Presenteeism is another concern – a study reports that workers with allergy are 10% less productive than those who are healthy. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that the cost of occupational asthma over a 10-year period is about £1.20 billion (US$1.6 billion)  and a Deloitte study on the economic costs of workplace asthma in Australia estimates productivity losses at $1.1 billion.

Complaints and conflicts over workplace allergy and asthma triggers can also end up in costly court cases and affect the company’s brand equity. Asthma and allergies are both covered under the American Disability Act (ADA) and employers have the legal obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation for employees with asthma and address concerns of exposure to triggers. Failure to acknowledge the rights of affected employees can result in potentially serious litigation and tarnish the reputation of the employer.

 

Taking Control of Workplace Allergies and Asthma During the Pandemic

Positive findings from recent studies show that asthma patients are not at greater risk for severe or fatal COVID-19, and that the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not worsen asthma. However, allergists and immunologists remind about keeping the condition under control at all times and companies have a big part to play in providing an environment that is safe and healthy.

For building and business owners this means minimizing, if not altogether eliminating workplace triggers of allergies and asthma. One of the most important ways to do this is to improve indoor air quality. Ensuring good air quality significantly reduces pollutant levels in the workers’ breathing zones. 

This can be done through the following:

  • Improving ventilation and increasing fresh air exchange
  • Identifying and avoiding use of irritating chemicals and substances
  • Taking building and workplace maintenance and cleanliness seriously
  • Providing appropriate protective gear for tasks that may involve triggers and irritants
  • Checking and addressing mold issues
  • Keeping HVAC systems clean and in good working condition

Understanding air quality in the workplace is the first step in implementing a proper program to manage work-related allergies and asthma. An indoor environmental quality monitor such as uHoo provides real-time information on factors such as temperature, humidity, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds that influence allergens and helps you to take prompt and appropriate actions. And because it can be easily integrated with your building and HVAC system, you can develop a seamless and integrated air quality management strategy to provide a healthy workplace for your employees.