Occupational respiratory disease is a big issue. Every year there are approximately 12 000 deaths due to occupational respiratory diseases. There are many trades and industries where by workers may be putting their lives and health at risk. If not taking precautions and ignoring the fumes within the air around them, workers may be prone to long term illnesses. Although a respiratory disease may arise in any industry, the main sectors include agricultural workers, construction workers, welders, bakery workers and vehicle paint sprayers.
Whilst some illnesses may be clearly linked to work, others may have a ‘latency’ period, some up to 30 years, which can make the link between work and the development of the disease difficult to establish. Respiratory diseases include asthma, COPD (Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and silicosis.
Workers in agriculture can be exposed to high levels of dust and micro-organisms. Grain workers include those who harvest, dry, store and transport grain. Those who look after livestock, are involved in vegetable cultivation and straw bailing are susceptible to contracting respiratory disorders. Bakery workers who work with high levels of flour dust and enzyme improvers are also susceptible.
For quarry and stone workers, the main risks here is exposure to dust and crystalline silica. Key activities of where exposures occur include stone masonry, demolition and stone floor laying. There is much awareness from professional organisations and suppliers about the risks of silica. Interventions have included leaflets outlining the dangers of working with dust, and, there have been events for employers to raise awareness. There is also a foundry worker initiative. Welding can give off airborne gases and very fine particles. If inhaled, can lead to a number of respiratory diseases. If there is mining of high silica stone, working in sand pits and blasting, there can also be health risks. Vehicle paint sprayers may contract occupational paint asthma from isocyanate paints.
Respiratory Protective Equipment
Other reasonable controls must be put in place before resorting to respiratory protective equipment (RPE). RPE should be used for short term and infrequent use only. It must be worn correctly and maintained. If, according to a risk assessment and adhering to the law, RPE must be used, then it must be suitable for the intended use, be right for the wearer, task and environment, and be properly integrated into the normal workplace environment. RPE must be manufactured according to the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. It must have a CE mark on it; this will indicate that it has met the minimum legal requirements for its design. In addition to the COSHH Regulations 2002, RPE may be needed to comply with other legislation. This may include the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002, Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and the basic requirement of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to which it is always necessary to maintain a safe working environment for employees.