Coshh And Respiratory Sensitisers

Breathing in substances called respiratory sensitisers at work can cause occupational asthma.

A respiratory sensitiser is a substance which when inhaled can bring on an irreversible allergic reaction in the respiratory system. Once a sensitisation reaction occurs, continued exposure to the substance will produce symptoms.

Sensitisation does not usually take place right away but can happen after several months or even years of breathing in the sensitiser.

Substances responsible for most cases of occupational asthma include the following:-

Substance Groups & their Common Activities

Isocyanates:Vehicle spray painting;foam manufacturing

Flour/grain/hay:Handling grain at docks;milling, malting, baking

Glutaraldehyde:Disinfecting instruments

Wood dusts:Sawmilling, woodworking

Electronic Soldering Flux:soldering

Latex:Laboratory animal work

Some glues/resins:Curing of epoxy resins

The symptoms of respiratory sensitisation are:

– asthma – attacks of coughing, breathlessness and tightness of the chest

– rhinitis and conjunctivitis – runny or stuffy nose and watery or prickly eyes

Once a person is sensitised, symptoms can occur either immediately they are exposed to the sensitiser or several hours later. If the symptoms are delayed, they are often most severe in the evenings or during the night, so workers may not realise it is work that is causing the problem.

– If exposure to the substance continues, this can result in permanent damage to the lungs. People with rhinitis may go on to develop asthma.

– Respiratory sensitisers are regulated by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health(CoSHH).

CoSHH guidelines recommend an assessment of the risks created by work which are liable to expose employees to respiratory sensitisers.

First, find out whether there is an activity or process in your workplace which uses or creates respiratory sensitisers.

If this is the case, then ask the following:

– Is the sensitiser likely to become airborne in use?

– Are there safer alternatives?

– Who is likely to be exposed, to what concentrations, for how long and how often?

According to CoSHH regulations, exposure must be prevented or controlled. To do this you will need to think about how you can:

– Stop using the sensitiser altogether perhaps by replacing it with a less harmful substance;

or if this is not reasonably practicable;

– Segregate work that may pose a risk; or totally end the process;

or if this is not reasonably practicable;

– Partially enclose the process and provide local exhaust ventilation.

If after carrying out the above you still have not achieved adequate control you will also need to use respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

Unless you are confident that your CoSHH assessment shows that there is an unlikely risk to your health, then a system of health surveillance will need to be set up if employees are exposed to respiratory sensitisers.

If health surveillance makes you suspect an employee has become sensitised you should:

– Remove the individual from working with the sensitiser and advise them to consult a doctor giving information on the work they do and the substances they may have been breathing in;

– Review your CoSHH assessment and existing control measures and make any necessary changes.

If employees are exposed to respiratory sensitisers then employers have a legal duty to inform, instruct and train them so that they know and understand:

– The risks to health;

– The symptoms of sensitisation

– The significance of reporting even possibly minor symptoms at an early stage;

– The proper use of control measures;

– The need to report promptly any failures in control measures