The CDC estimated that in one year alone, asthma caused over 14 million missed days of work in the U.S.1 Did you know that an estimated 11 million workers in various industries and occupations are exposed to risk factors associated with occupational asthma?2 What is occupational asthma? The CDC defines asthma as “a disease that affects your lungs. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing.” It’s estimated that occupational factors are associated with up to 15% of disabling asthma cases in the United States.2 Some common examples of asthma triggers found in the workplace are dust, mold, fumes from chemicals, and perfume. Here in Massachusetts, 1 out of 10 adults has asthma.3 Chances are, your workforce employs multiple people with this disease and there are several ways you can improve and protect their health!
Here’s a list of steps Massachusetts employers can take to improve productivity, and more importantly, protect the health of their employees.4,5
- Remove substances that cause asthma, and replace them with safer materials.
- Use environmentally preferred products for cleaning as recommended by the MA Operational Services Division. Also check out the Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program.
- Eliminate hazards like tobacco smoke or mold.
- Ventilate using ventilation systems to remove hazardous substances. Maintain these systems to ensure good air quality.
- Provide respirators or masks to reduce exposures to hazardous substances. Respirators require medical approval, hazard assessments & training.
- Provide skin protection, such as gloves, aprons & face shields to protect against substances that can be absorbed through the skin & can cause asthma.
- Train employees about hazards and prevention.
- Develop smoke-free policies that discourage smoking at entrances to building and near air intakes.
- Avoid use of air fresheners in bathrooms and kitchen areas and discourage the use of perfumes by occupants.
- Ensure that construction, renovation or repair activities are isolated from occupants. Select building materials that do not emit formaldehyde to the environment.
- Ensure that work spaces are clean and free of clutter to avoid attraction of dust and pests.
Did you know that all healthcare providers in Massachusetts are required to report suspected cases of work-related asthma to the Department of Public Health? It’s in your best interest to reduce hazards in the workplace as an employer. In addition to these tips above, what’s a good way to get started to better your employees’ lives? Check out our Healthy Workplaces Toolbox for additional resources on asthma and other occupational health and safety topics. Also, consider applying to Working on Wellness to receive up to $10,000 in seed funding to launch a comprehensive worksite wellness initiative. Register for a free informational webinar today to learn about the program and how you can apply!