Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma is caused by the inhalation of airborne substances present in the working environment which cause an allergic reaction which sensitizes the airways.

These substances are called respiratory sensitisers or asthmagens and are present in dusts, gases, vapours or fumes at the workplace. Once the airways have become hypersensitive, further exposure (even at quite low levels) may trigger asthma attacks.

The time taken for the airways to become sensitized varies according to the individual and the nature of the exposure.  It is possible to develop occupational asthma within weeks or many years from the start of the exposure.

Occupational asthma can occur in smokers as well as non-smokers. It can also occur in those who have suffered from asthma before (called work related asthma) and in those who have not.


Symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing or breathlessness
  • Chest tightness

If you have these symptoms and find that they improve when on days away from work or whilst away on holiday then you may have occupational asthma.

The following conditions can also occur in association with occupational asthma:

  • Rhinitis (sneezing/runny nose)
  • Conjunctivitis (itchy and inflamed red eyes)


All of the jobs listed below carry a risk of occupational asthma:



Paint sprayers


Die casters and core makers

Resins (commonly phenol formaldehyde) Isocyanates



Flour dust

(alpha-amylase / other enzyme additives, wheat flour, rye flour, soy bean flour)

Farm workers

Grain and poultry dust



Solder flux fumes

Metal machinists

Cutting oils /Coolants


Wood dusts

Working with animals


(Animal fur, feathers, dander, dried urine and saliva dusts)

Healthcare workers


Rubber latex

Biocides, cleaning agents, acrylates, diathermy and surgical smoke, anaesthetic gases, drugs, formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde



In addition to the above those who work with the nickel and its compounds (nickel/copper and nickel/chromium) are at risk of developing occupational asthma. Contact may occur in the manufacture of stainless steel, coins, magnets, chemical and food process equipment, and in the aerospace industry.

How to make a claim

Your employer has a duty to provide you with a safe system of work. This includes the prevention of occupational asthma by removing or reducing exposure to its causes and where this is not possible, by effective control measures. If your employer has failed to do so then one of our specialist lawyers can help you make a claim and ensure you obtain the maximum compensation you deserve. 

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