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World Asthma Day: Workplace illness lawyer calls for greater understanding around condition

Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and this World Asthma Day, the theme is ‘Asthma Education Empowers.’ 

With greater awareness of the condition, comes more understanding and hopefully more support for those that are asthma sufferers. Before I started my career as a workplace illness lawyer, I thought of asthma as a mild and often a childhood condition, without any real cause. When I began bringing cases for individuals who have greatly suffered as a result of asthma caused by occupational exposure to particular materials, I realised the potentially devastating impact that it can have. 

In 2019 alone, asthma led to more than 450,000 deaths globally.  As a result, there's no doubt that asthma should be taken very seriously. Especially when symptoms can be greatly improved, or in some cases, completely prevented. 

Occupational asthmagens - a hidden threat

Occupational asthma is caused by breathing in substances at work, such as dust, chemicals like isocyanates and other types of fumes. Sometimes, symptoms don't develop immediately and as a result it can be tricky for patients to establish the link between work and their condition, even with medical advice. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 1,500 to 3,000 people develop occupational asthma each year.  We can see from pre-pandemic data that the condition is generally on the rise. However, it's understood that the statistics that were obtained during 2020, 2021 and 2022 were particularly disrupted due to the pandemic. As a result, it is difficult to understand the true nature of the disease and its prevalence currently. 

It's not always known that patients could be entitled to a benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions (“DWP”) such as Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and also potentially compensation through a legal claim. At Irwin Mitchell, we have extensive experience of bringing claims for patients who have been diagnosed with occupational asthma.

Air pollution - a global emergency

Air pollution is an issue for everyone, but it can have an incredibly harmful impact on those who have asthma. Data from the World Health Organisation indicates that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. There is ever emerging evidence that air pollution can not only just exaggerate asthma but actually cause it.

The UK government has been warned in the past, by the European Commission about the dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air. The air quality in the UK requires improvement. Greater awareness and education could help inform better policy decisions and therefore potentially prevent unnecessary exacerbations or even diagnoses of asthma. 

The economic cost of asthma is staggering.  Charity Asthma + Lung UK estimates that in 2023, the direct costs to the UK associated with asthma was £1.5 billion, with NHS costs accounting for £1.3 billion of that figure.

Who can help?

Asthma affects 7.2 million people in the UK alone, and this World Asthma Day, we're joining Asthma + Lung UK in raising awareness of asthma triggers and highlighting the support available to those who have asthma as to how to manage their symptoms. 

We also remind polluters that there's always more that they can do to reduce harmful emissions, known to cause and exacerbate asthma, while asking employers to consider what more they can do to limit exposing their workers to potentially harmful asthmagens. 

World Asthma Day is on 7 May.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by occupational asthma at our dedicated section on the website. Alternatively, to speak to an expert contact us or call 0808 256 5124.