Asthma among workers 'could be costing UK up to £135m a year'

Asthma brought on by conditions at work could be costing the UK up to £135m a year, researchers said today.

Asthma in the workplace can take weeks, months or even years to develop, depending on the substance a person is exposed to and their individual health.

The most common cause of this type of asthma in the UK are chemicals called isocyanates, which are used in many jobs such as spray painting, foam moulding using adhesives and surface coatings.

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Other hazards that can induce asthma include dust from flour and grains, wood dust in carpentry and joinery, soldering fumes and chemicals used in floor cleaners, dust from latex rubber and particles from animals or insects.

Today's research, published in the journal Thorax, said an estimated 3,000 new cases of occupational asthma are diagnosed every year in the UK.

Experts predicted the impact of asthma on a person's life, including how frequently they would use health services.

The financial impacts were then divided up between the individual, the employer and the state and included NHS and benefit costs, lost income and productivity.

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The cost added up to between 72m and 100m over the lifetimes of people with occupational asthma, or 3.4m to 4.8m a year, and were twice as big for men as women.

Half the costs fell on the individual and just under half fells on the state. But only three to four per cent fell on employers, the study showed.

The team, which included experts from the University of Birmingham, said the cost to society of occupational asthma was high. "Approaches to reduce the burden of occupational asthma have a strong economic justification."