Prevention System Updates

May is Asthma Awareness Month: protect your workers

Release Date:  May 16, 2013

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in Canada, accounting for 80% of chronic disease diagnoses.1 While the disease can be effectively managed, it can be fatal if left untreated.

Among adults, working conditions are directly associated with 10-15% of asthma cases.2 To help protect your workers from conditions that can cause or aggravate asthma, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS)'s website offers a number of industry sector-specific asthma resources. WSPS developed these resources in collaboration with the Ontario Lung Association and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers. But first, learn more about this disease.

How asthma affects us

Asthma can constrict airway pathways in our lungs, causing difficulty in breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, breathlessness and coughing. It affects people of all ages. More than 2.7 million Canadians and 1.7 million Ontarians have asthma,3 or roughly 8.5% of the population.4 About 21% are children, making asthma the leading pediatric chronic condition.5

About 250 Canadians die from the disease every year. In 2009, Ontario recorded 91 deaths.3 All of these deaths could have been prevented with proper education and plans to manage the disease.

The economic burden of asthma is substantial. A conservative estimate predicts that the cost of asthma alone will rise to $4.2 billion by 2030.4

What causes asthma

Asthma has been linked to genetics, infections, tobacco smoking, air pollution and other additional variables, such as working conditions or agents present in the workplace. Some agents shown to be associated with or cause asthma are wood dust, chemical fumes, vapours and gases released through workplace product use.3 All agents are classified as sensitizers or irritants. They are airborne and inhaled, which can trigger an asthmatic response.

There are two forms of work-related asthma:

  • occupational asthma — caused by exposure to a workplace agent. This is the most common occupational lung disease.3
  • work-exacerbated asthma — a worker with existing asthma becomes worse due to the various agents and triggers present in the working environment.

Eliminating or reducing exposure to asthma agents can prevent work-related asthma and enable people who already have the disease to remain on the job.

Find out more

Learn more about how to protect workers from asthma and other occupational illnesses by checking out resources on our website. Among the topics:

  • Occupational Asthma: Automotive Parts Manufacturing and Foam and Expanded Plastics Industries
  • Work-Related Asthma and You: Cleaning Products
  • Work-Related Asthma and You: Hair, Nail and Beauty Salons
  • Work-Related Asthma: Asthma Plan of Action for Hair, Nail & Beauty Salons
  • Work-Related Asthma: Preventing Work-Related Asthma in the Cleaning Industry
  • Work-Related Asthma Recognition and Prevention: Metals and Metal-Working Fluids.

1Life and breath: Respiratory disease in Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada
2 Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease
3 Ontario Lung Association
4 Cost Risk Analysis for Chronic Lung Disease in Canada, Conference Board of Canada (2012)
5 Asthma Society of Canada