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Focus On: Occupational Asthma

While the cause of asthma is unknown, in Canada it is one of the most common chronic health conditions. The National Population Health Survey (2013) reports that 7.9% of adults are diagnosed with asthma.

Workplaces can either be the cause (PDF 439KB, 3 pages) of adult onset asthma, or can expose workers to triggers/irritants of a pre-existing condition.

Workplaces may also expose employees to triggers either through:

  • the nature of the work
  • certain substances known to be irritating to the respiratory system
  • specific known allergen(s) for the person

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The Cost of Asthma to You & Your Workplace

To You

The latest numbers available rate the losses in 1995 dollars. For adult patients, the cost was $2,550 per patient per year.  Direct costs for asthma are mostly related to medications and hospitalizations. Indirect costs include lost wages, travel time and waiting times for medical care, other family members being absent from work to be a caregiver, and purchasing devices or controls to reduce triggers in the home.

To Your Workplace

The cost for employers falls in the indirect costs of benefit plans, absences, or lost productivity.

A 1996 study found that $124 million was spent on drugs and $76 million (in 1990 dollars) on disability related costs for asthma patients.

Actual present day costs to both you and your workplace will be significantly higher.

Combined direct & indirect costs of asthma are projected to rise from just over $2.2 billion in 2010 to just under $4.2 billion by 2030 – an increase of 90%.

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What You Can Do

  1. Develop an Asthma Action Plan with your physician.
  2. Use Personal Protective Equipment properly when working with irritants/triggers.
  3. Talk to coworkers about use of perfumes or other known triggers (e.g. plants in soil) in your work area.
  4. Clean your workspace regularly to avoid build up of dust.
  5. Think about quitting (if you smoke) and reduce your exposure to second hand smoke.
  6. Avoid areas where vehicles are idling.
  7. Reduce outdoor activity on smog advisory days.
  8. Advocate for environmentally friendly products in your workplace.
  9. Get your flu shot.
  10.  Learn about the products/chemicals you are using in your workplace.

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How Your Workplace Can Help

Employers can create a healthier environment by addressing prevention strategies for all employees and by implementing control strategies for those employees already living with asthma.

Prevention

Primary prevention:

  • reduce initial exposures to irritants
  • change processes to involve fewer chemicals
  • implement engineering controls to limit exposures
  • educate employees on the dangers of exposing unborn and young children to second hand smoke as a risk factor for developing the disease

Asthma Control

Effective control of asthma symptoms when at work depends upon education about the disease and avoidance of triggers.  To assist employees in the management of their asthma while at work:

  • encourage employees that have asthma to have an up-to-date action plan
  • educate workers on individual actions  to reduce reactions to triggers
  • incorporate coverage of devices (peak flow meters, mattress enclosures, spacers, etc.) with your insurance carrier

10 Ways to Reduce Triggers:

  1. Participate in the Urban Transportation Showcase Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn how Peel Companies are involved.
  2. Avoid cold temperatures or modify work when necessary. See CCOHS guidelines for cold weather work.
  3. Reduce exposure to second hand smoke.Create policies that support the Smoke Free Ontario Act measures .
  4. Implement no scent or reduced scent policies. Consider personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for the job.
  5. Educate workers to warm up and cool down with strenuous physical labour. Provide more frequent rest periods and easy access to an individual’s medication. Consider modified work.
  6. Install filters, separate ventilation or other engineering controls in heavy dust areas. Arrange more frequent cleaning in high dust areas. Supply appropriate PPE for workers.
  7. Use CCOHS guide for eliminating mould in the workplace.
  8. Reduce exposure to pollen (mainly a concern for outside workers). Consider varying job tasks, time of day and modified work.
  9. Host a flu clinic. People who live with asthma are considered a high risk group for respiratory infections. The flu shot is one way to protect against serious complications and even death for this group.
  10. Choose less noxious chemicals or engineering controls to reduce exposure. Educate workers on the safe handling and emergency measures when working with known irritants. Have up to date MSDS forms and WHMIS training for all chemicals at your site.

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What Peel Workplaces are Doing

SmartCommute/Carpool Zone is a ride matching service that promotes and coordinates carpooling throughout the GTA. Current participants in Peel include: The Region of Peel, City of Mississauga, City of Brampton, Town of Caledon, Husky Injection Molding and Maple Lodge Farms. Please contact Judy Yack at the Region of Peel to learn how your company can register.

Targeted Education Campaign undertaken by a local company around asthma with the cooperation of their insurance carrier saw a reduction in the amount of rescue medications being used by asthma sufferers and other positive results.

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Facts & Stats

  • Approximately 66% of adults and children that have asthma do not have it adequately controlled.
  • The Canadian Lung Association (PDF 1.03MB, page 23 of 39) reports that "asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism from school and the third leading cause of work loss"
  • Employer and employee health care costs can be reduced by following a targeted disease management program.
  • In Canada, asthma kills 500 adults each year.
  • Estimated 2001 costs in Peel Region for hospital admissions related to asthma and other minor illnesses linked to air pollution were over 2.5 million dollars (PDF 842KB, page 13 of 30).

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Additional Resources

Community Resources

Corporate Programs

Peel Health’s Smoke Free Vehicles Program

Peel Health’s Smoke Free Vehicles Program

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Other Topics

 

Revised: August 14, 2014

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