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Public health importance of work-related asthma

Workplace exposures are responsible for the development of an estimated 10 - 20% of all new onset adult asthma cases. Asthma has become the most prevalent work-related lung disease in the United States. Work-related asthma is a serious and sometimes fatal disease.

Workplace exposures to fumes, gases, vapors or dusts may aggravate asthma in a worker with preexisting asthma or may cause asthma for the first time in a previously healthy worker. Currently there are more than 350 substances used in the workplace that are known to cause asthma, including wood dusts, isocyanates, epoxies and certain adhesives.

From 1995 to 2002, the Washington State workers' compensation claims rate for work-related asthma increased by 63%, from 7.9 claims per 100,000 full-time equivalents (FTE) to 12.9 claims per 100,000 FTEs. In July 2000, the public health importance of occupational asthma in the state of Washington was recognized when the State Board of Health made asthma a reportable condition.

Work-related asthma is preventable. Engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and employer/employee education are all potential strategies that can be used to prevent this serious illness. Early identification of disease and appropriate clinical management may prevent significant work disability.

For more information about work-related asthma as a reportable condition in Washington State, visit SHARP's Reporting Work‑related Asthma Cases page.

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