Test could cut workplace asthma

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The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT inspectors yesterday launched a blitz on asthma caused by exposure to chemicals at work. Andrew Curran, from the Health and Safety Executive, told the British Association meeting that some 200 substances are known to cause asthma in workers.

In a document published yesterday, the HSE warns employers against these chemicals and tells them how they can avoid their staff developing asthma.

The HSE, which monitors workplace hazards, said at least 70,000 people in Britain believe they developed asthma after breathing in substances at work. The executive said that because of under-reporting this represents only the tip of the iceberg.

Dr Curran said employers and their staff failed to recognise that asthma was a debilitating, and sometimes life-threatening, condition that could be induced after relatively limited exposure to chemicals. Once someone has become sensitised to an asthma-inducing chemical, they will always be allergic to it. Cleaner working practices can help to prevent this crucial early exposure.

The chemicals range from tiny particles of food, such as flour and coffee beans, to resins used in electronics manufacturing and by- products from laboratory animals. Cleaning with high-pressure jets can force these particles deep into workers' lungs.

The HSE scientists have developed a new molecular test that allows them to identify exactly what it is in a factory environment that is causing asthma in a workforce. The test is particularly good at picking up very small molecules that scientists have not previously been able to pick out - including chemicals in spray paints and industrial glues. The team hopes to put the new test to use within the next six months.

Preventing Asthma at Work - How to control respiratory sensitisers; HSE; 071 717 6000.