Workplace Triggers

Your workplace can contain some common asthma triggers including:

      • Wood dusts – specifically Western Red Cedar, Rimu and some particle boards.
      • Flour and grain dusts from farms, granaries and bakeries.
      • Animal fur and protein from laboratories and veterinary clinics.
      • Foams and plastics, and the fumes given off during their manufacture.
      • Isocyanate paints.
      • Epoxy resins and other plastics from boat builders, mould manufacturers and plastic manufacturing processors.
      • Chemicals such as those used in some paints, glues or foam manufacture.
      • Chemicals used in spray painting and boat building.
      • Metal fumes or dusts from aluminium melting, welding, etc.

      People who have not had asthma before can develop it through an allergic reaction to a substance in the workplace. This may happen even after years of working safely with the substance. Asthma caused by exposure to a trigger, or triggers, in the workplace is known as occupational asthma.

      Sometimes the allergic reaction and its symptoms don’t develop until some hours after the exposure. It is therefore often difficult to identify the workplace as the cause.

      Other people develop asthma for the first time in the workplace after heavy exposure to irritants, such as welding fumes or gaseous vapours like sulphur dioxide.

      The prevalence of occupational asthma is higher in smokers.

      What can you do?

      If you develop occupational asthma symptoms, discuss the problem with your healthcare practitioner or the occupational health nurse if one visits your workplace. Your healthcare practitioner will ask you to note what substances or processes you are exposed to in your work, if your symptoms worsen during each shift, or if there is any improvement away from work.

      They can also teach you how to use a peak flow meter. This measures how fast you can breathe out and tells you how well your airways are working. Taking readings at work and at home can help determine if the issue is workplace-related.

      Discuss with your workplace managers how to manage your exposure to workplace triggers. Options for risk management include:

      • Elimination - can the substance or process be changed for something less harmful?
      • Isolation - can the substance or process be isolated to a special place in the worksite or time of day when most people will not be exposed?
      • Minimisation - can the equipment be improved to reduce the exposure?

      What can you or your employer do if you are not sure if there is a problem at work?

      WorkSafe New Zealand can be contacted for advice. They have the resources to provide information and advice about workplace hazards and the best (and most practicable) means of controlling these problems if they exist. Your union may also be able to offer help.