Asthma control at work

Sainsbury’s details surveillance system to prevent the development of
occupational asthma

The control of occupational asthma within a retail environment was the theme
of a fascinating presentation by Jo Berriman, group occupational health manager
at Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury’s employs 5,500 bakery workers in its 445 stores which have
bakeries so the health hazards arising from the bakery operation are of
particular concern. The three most serious of these are work-related asthma,
occupational rhinitis and occupational asthma. These arise from various sources
including skin contamination and the inhalation of airborne dust.

In 1999 31 bakers in the UK were reported to have contracted occupational
asthma. The clinical features of the disease are that it often develops after
an initial symptom-free period of exposure; episodic lower respiratory symptoms
occur in association with periods at work and it is usually accompanied by
rhinitis.

Diagnosis is achieved in a five-step process: a history is taken; lung
function tests are carried out; skin prick tests reveal reaction to a causal
agent; blood testing shows if there is a positive IgE; and lastly inhalation
tests can be carried out if necessary.

Sainsbury’s has initiated a thorough health surveillance programme to prevent
the development of occupational asthma and to identify bakery workers who
exhibit symptoms.

It has identified a number of workers who have developed the disease and
will be discussing redeployment opportunities with them as well as implementing
preventative measures in the workplace.

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