TUC launches initiative to cut asthma cases at work

New
figures show 134 people develop asthma at work every week, according to the
TUC.

It
says 7,000 people develop asthma each year because of their work. It is
launching a training course for union safety reps on how to use a legally
binding code of practice to prevent asthma at work.

TUC
General Secretary John Monks said: "Asthma can be a debilitating and
painful condition that really restricts people’s lives – and it can often mean
they have to give up their career and their livelihood.

"Employers
lose out too, because the people who get asthma at work tend to be highly
skilled and costly to replace. Our training for workplace safety reps will help
them work in partnership with their employers to remove or control the risks of
asthma, creating healthier workers in healthier workplaces."

Donna
Covey, chief executive of the National Asthma Campaign said: "The UK has
one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. We are delighted that the TUC
has launched these valuable training materials that will help reduce the level
of occupational asthma.

"We
would also like to see greater involvement from health professionals in
identifying where new cases of adult asthma are occupational, as this is key in
establishing what causes asthma and how it might be treated in the future. This
will not only enhance the quality of life of people with asthma, but will also
improve reporting and prevention of asthma in the workplace."

The
TUC highlighted the case of Christine Taylor, an endoscopy nurse at the Wigan
and Leigh Health Services NHS Trust. She developed asthma because of disinfectants
containing glutaraldehyde and formaldehyde. By 1998, her breathlessness was so
severe that she could not continue working, walk any real distance or visit the
swimming baths with her grandchildren because of the chlorine in the air. Her
union, Unison, eventually secured compensation for her earlier this year of
£160,000.

Another
case highlighted was that of Mary Watkin. Watkin was a school cook working at
William Cowper School in Aston, for Birmingham City Council. She developed
occupational asthma because of her contact with flour in an inadequately
ventilated kitchen. Unison secured her compensation, including back pay, of
£200,000.

The
main causes of asthma at work are: latex gloves, flour dust in bakeries,
isocyanates used in painting and other processes, laboratory animals, solder
fumes, wood dust, glutaraldehyde (used as a disinfectant), glues and resins.
Workers most at risk of exposure include nurses, woodworkers and painters and
lab technicians.

This
summer, the Health and Safety Commission is introducing a new, legally binding
approved code of practice on the control of substances that cause occupational
asthma, as an appendix to the new Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
Regulations 2002. This will bring home to employers that the law requires them
to ensure substances that cause occupational asthma are properly controlled.

www.tuc.org.uk

By Quentin Reade

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