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Asthma is a condition which affects the airways. Sometimes it can develop or be made worse by unsafe conditions in the workplace. This is known as occupational asthma, and it affects a significant number of workers each year.

It is difficult to say how many cases of occupational asthma occur each year – the Health and Safety Executive thinks that its data sources substantially underestimate the number of people who are suffering from the condition, and the number of people who begin to suffer from it each year.Even so, the latest estimates suggest that there were anything between 8,600 and 13,000 people suffering from occupational asthma over the last three years.

If you have developed asthma and this has been caused or exacerbated by your work then you may be able to recover compensation as a result.

You might also help to prevent someone else from developing the condition.


There is undoubtedly a lot to think about before you make a compensation claim like this. To find out more about what is involved, click on the links below, or give us a call. One of our specialist No Win No Fee lawyers will be happy to talk things through with you, free of charge and with no obligation.

Causes of Occupational Asthma 

Certain industries can pose a very high risk to workers in terms of developing occupational asthma or having existing symptoms made worse. This is mainly due to the materials and substances that employees come into contact with. So, what are the causes of occupational asthma?

Common causes of occupational asthma can consist of continuous exposure to flour, grain, and wood dust. Inhalation of the fine particles that are constantly present in environments such as bakeries and workshops are likely to distress the lungs and cause irreversible respiratory problems in the long-term.

The Health and Safety Executive also identifies the compound isocyanate as a major culprit in the development of occupational asthma, and it is mainly found in polyurethane products, including paint, adhesives, and foam. This means that those in the car body repair industry are among those at the highest risk of developing asthma in the workplace because of the frequency that they use these products.


  • Epoxy resin curing agents
  • Colophony fumes
  • Animals and insects in laboratories
  • Platinum salts
  • Proteolytic enzymes
  • Antibiotic manufacture
  • Caster beacarbon dust
  • Ispaghula used in the manufacture of laxatives
  • Ipecacuanha in tablet manufacture
  • Azodicarbonaide used in plastics

When it comes to the question “what causes occupational asthma,” it is clear that chemicals play a massive role. Let’s take a closer look. 

Chemicals and Asthma

According to statistics derived from SWORD (Surveillance of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease) and IIDB (Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit), vehicle paint sprayers, bakers and flour confectioners are the workers at most risk of occupational asthma in the UK.

The organisations report that the following are the most common chemical causes of occupational asthma in the UK workforce:

  • Isocyanates: Vehicle spraying, foam manufacturing, isocyanate-based glue manufacture, printing and laminating, etc.
  • Cleaning products: Care homes, hospitals, laboratories, food industry etc.
  • Hardening agents: Construction, woodworking
  • Flour, grain and hay: Dock workers and the food industry
  • Soldering flux: Electronic assembly
  • Epoxy glue and resinsEpoxy resin manufacture and the laminate flooring industry
  • Enzymes: Detergents and flour conditioners
  • Metals: Platinum, chromium and nickel sulphate are just three examples

The Health and Safety Executive has produced a list of the chemicals that cause occupational asthma. This can be found here. From Alpha Amylases used in milling and bread baking to Trimellitic Anhydride used in the production of wall and floor coverings – if you work with chemicals which may cause occupational asthma, they are likely to be featured on this list.


Employers are responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and there are many legislative and regulatory instruments in place which are designed to help ensure employers fully carry out this responsibility.

For example, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) make it clear that workers who develop occupational asthma after unnecessary exposure have a right to claim suitable compensation.

Furthermore, employers must ensure that at-risk workers have suitable Personal Protective Equipment to help guard against risk, which, of course, may include respirators and/or air filtration systems.

Occupational Asthma Symptoms

Occupational asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in your chest and shortness of breath. These develop when your airways become irritated by hazardous substances such as flour or grain dust. When exposed to such substances, the airways can become inflamed and swell up, causing them to become narrower, making it harder for you to breathe.  


There are number of things you should know about how asthma develops and its likely causes:

  • You can develop asthma at any age. Some people get asthma during childhood and it is not uncommon for it to disappear, only to return in later life. Some people develop "late onset" asthma in later life even though they never had symptoms as a child.
  • Asthma is often hereditary.
  • Late onset asthma can arise with or without exposure to irritants.
  • Irritants in the workplace can lead to a person developing asthma. According to the HSE, the most common causes are isocyanates and flour/grain dust. 
  • Occupational asthma is caused by breathing in substances at work. Once the lungs become sensitive further exposure to the substance can provoke a further attack.
  • Exposure to irritants at work can inflame the airways of individuals with pre-existing conditions. Sometimes the individual does not become sensitised to the agent but the attack can still be work related.
  • A sufferer of occupational asthma may show symptoms immediately after exposure to a hazardous substance, or it may take years before they feel any of the effects.


When deciding whether there is a link between your asthma and occupation, your doctor will usually ask whether your symptoms are better on days when you're off work and if they're worse when you're around particular substances. They can then test which exact substance is triggering your asthma to provide you with the best possible treatment plan.

If you're suffering from any of the symptoms of asthma or have started to experience the early warning signs, which include eye irritation, nasal congestion, and an itchy runny nose that lasts longer than a few weeks, then you should see your GP straight away. There should be particular concern if you work in any of the jobs which pose a risk of occupational asthma.

Finding out that you've developed asthma later in life can be very stressful. Depending on the severity of your case, you may be required to go through a lot of readjusting as you may have to incorporate a new treatment plan into your daily lifestyle. Although treatments for asthma have come a very long way in the past few decades and the condition is manageable for the vast majority of sufferers, it is not right to have suffered because of your job.

 There are health and safety guidelines in place to prevent workers in at-risk industries from developing asthma, and if your employer has failed to take sufficient notice of these, then that is a case of negligence. What's more, you could be able to make a compensation claim with Thompsons Solicitors.  

Make an Occupational Asthma Claim Today

If you believe you have contracted occupational asthma, our specialist No Win, No Fee compensation lawyers will assess your claim and discuss the best way forward with you.  We have a large team of solicitors, solicitor advocates and other professionals specialised in pursuing lung disease compensation claims. We also have a team of experts, such as Consultant Physicians and Occupational Hygienists, who can assist with the evidence in the claims.

Call us today and take your first step towards occupational asthma compensation.

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