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Going to Work Without Laboring for Breath

(September 10, 2015)

The vast majority of the American workforce spends at least part of their day laboring indoors where serious health dangers may be lurking in the air they breathe. According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), approximately 11 million workers, including those who are employed by offices, restaurants and industrial facilities, are exposed to at last one or more substances in their workplace that could cause asthma symptoms.

Common concerns from callers to our Lung HelpLine include:

  •  “I cannot access the employee entrance at my work due to other employees and visitors smoking.  What can I do?”
  •  “I work in a small office, and a few co-workers wear so much perfume it chokes me and I have to use my rescue inhaler several times.  How do I get them to realize they are making me sick?”
  •  "I use a company vehicle that is shared with other employees, including some who smoke in the vehicle.  This makes my asthma worse. How can I avoid this?”
  •  “The building I work in had water damage, and now has a smell that makes me and a few other co-workers sick.  We think it might be mold.  What can we do?”

Your work environment shouldn’t cause your asthma to worsen. Whether you work in an office, store, restaurant, or factory, having solid policies in place to protect your lung health can mean less time spent struggling for breath and more time focusing on your job.

Even people who aren’t coping with asthma can have allergic sensitivities to perfumes and strong fragrances found in some cleaning products and air fresheners. And no one’s lungs are safe when having to inhale secondhand smoke.

Become a Polite Advocate

Your employer has a vested interest in your health and safety while on the clock. If your place of business doesn’t already have a smokefree or scent-free policy in place, initiate a conversation with your immediate supervisor and educate him/her on your health concerns.

The American Lung Association has created a Guide for Controlling Asthma at Work to help adults living with asthma recognize if their workplace is making them sick and the steps to take to take control. Taking time to educate yourself about asthma the components of alung-friendly workplace will also help you have a productive conversation.

The information in the Guide to Safe & Healthy Workplaces is especially tailored for employers to guide their implementation of asthma-friendly policies that you may want to consider sharing with your supervisor.

One in twelve adults have asthma, and you’re not alone in your concerns. The Lung Helpline is here to help you and to provide advice on how to make your workday healthier and safer. Call 1-800-LUNG-USA (586-4872) for immediate help from our trained staff of respiratory therapists, counselors and registered nurses. You can also submit a question online.

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