Asthma is a respiratory disease

It creates a narrowing of the air passages that makes it difficult to breathe.

Work-related asthma

Two types:

  1. occupational asthma
  2. Caused by something in the workplace

Enzymes (in detergents or laboratories) and moulds
Proteins from animals, plants, foods, insects, fish and shellfish
Wheat or other flour and enzyme exposures
Isocyanates in spray paints, some glues, foundry moulds, polyurethane foam
Western red cedar dust

Work-exacerbated asthma

Something in the workplace aggravates existing asthma

Dusts (construction, grains)
Ozone (some swimming pools, bottling plants, photocopy machines)
Ammonia (farming environments such as barns)
Fumes, vapours, smoke and gases (metal working fluids, paint fumes, cleaning chemicals)
Environment (cold, heat and humidity)

Internationally, up to 15% of adult onset asthma may be related to the workplace.

Industries affected

Cleaning and janitorial services
Automobile spray painting
Insulation and polyurethane work
Fisheries and fish processing

What employers can do

Read and be aware of safety data sheet information about respiratory health effects.
Replace substances with less harmful ones.
Minimize exposure (ventilation, enclosures).
Develop administrative controls (such as changing the job or tasks).
Educate workers on proper handling, avoiding spills and good housekeeping practices.
Provide personal protective equipment. This should be the last option.

If there is one worker with asthma symptoms, it may warrant a closer look at the air quality of the workplace and its ventilation controls.


Tightness of the chest
Difficulty breathing

Symptoms are usually worse on work days and improve when away from the workplace.