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Occupational Asthma

An estimated 11 million workers in a wide range of industries and occupations are exposed to at least one of the numerous agents known to be associated with occupational asthma. Occupational factors are associated with up to 15 percent of disabling asthma cases in the United States. Asthma is an illness characterized by intermittent breathing difficulty including chest tightness, wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath. It is frequently serious and sometimes fatal.

Occupational asthma is addressed in specific standards for recordkeeping and the general industry.

OSHA Standards

This page highlights OSHA standards and Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices) related to occupational asthma.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

Recording and reporting occupational injuries and illness (29 CFR 1904) [related topic page]

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Federal Registers

  • Indoor Air Quality. Notice 66:64946, (2001, December 17). Withdrawal of OSHA's Indoor Air Quality proposal.

  • Indoor Air Quality. Proposed Rules 59:15968-16039, (1994, April 5). Includes a provision which requires employers within indoor work environments to implement controls for specific contaminants including those that may contribute to occupational asthma.

  • Search all available Federal Registers.

Hazard Recognition

Asthma is one of the more serious problems that may be caused by work-related allergy. A severe case of asthma can be disabling. The following references provide information about the characteristics and symptoms of occupational asthma.

  • Asthma and Allergies. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic.

  • Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). Outlines the collaborative efforts of the Asthma & Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Team with federal agencies to increase resources available for extramural research on occupational asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • Asthma in the US Growing every year. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Discusses research from CDC that more Americans are suffering from asthma than ever before.

  • OSH Answers: What is occupational asthma? Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). Describes occupational asthma including, tables of causative agents.

  • For additional information, see OSHA's Safety and Health Topics Pages on:

Possible Solutions

The prevention of occupational asthma requires environmental interventions and medical management tools such as, patient education, demonstrating behavior changes to avoid asthma triggers, using drug therapies, and frequent medical follow-ups to treat and identify asthma patients. The following references provide information regarding possible solutions for hazards associated with occupational asthma.

  • newTransitioning to Safer Chemicals: A Toolkit for Employers and Workers. OSHA, (2013). OSHA has developed this step-by-step toolkit to provide employers and workers with information, methods, tools, and guidance on using informed substitution in the workplace.

  • Animal Allergens in the Workplace. OSHA Hazard Information Bulletin (HIB), (1998, July 13). Provides valuable information to animal handlers who are at risk of developing work-related asthma and allergies.

  • The Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report, 2002. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-111, (2003). Provides information on various work-related respiratory diseases and associated exposures in the United States.
    • Asthma [243 KB PDF, 20 pages]. Section 9. Describes where asthma is occurring (by industry, location, race, gender, age, and occupation), how frequently it occurs, and temporal trends, according to studies performed from 1990 through 1999.

  • Control of Dust From Powder Dye Handling Operations. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-107, (1997). Describes ways to control dust from powder dye and handling operations to prevent occupational asthma.

  • Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-116, (1998, January). Lists the types of workers who are more susceptible to animal-related asthma, as well as methods for control.

  • Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-135, (1997, June). Describes latex allergy reactions from mild skin irritations to asthma and anaphylactic shock.
  • Preventing Asthma and Death from Diisocyanate Exposure. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-111, (1996). Contains information about preventing asthma or other respiratory diseases from employee exposure to diisocyanates.

  • Allergic Diseases. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Information Resources. Provides resources for patients, including addresses, phone numbers, and websites for NIAID-supported centers researching asthma, allergy, and immunologic diseases.

  • Occupational Asthma and Farming. National Ag Safety Database (NASD), Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, (2002, April). Provides an overview of farming hazards that can cause occupational asthma.

Additional Information

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