Occupational Exposures and COPD

July 14, 2018

A new study, conducted by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, reveals that occupational exposure to hazardous agents increases workers’ risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The study involved 3,343 participants from 12 countries, who were selected between 1991 and 1993, and followed up with 20 years later. Overall, 21 percent of the 96 COPD cases that were detected upon follow-up were associated with occupational exposures.

Researchers’ Findings

When the participants were recruited, they provided the researchers with information pertaining to their exposures in the workplace. Researchers also referenced an external job exposure matrix. Participants were given spirometric lung function tests after both recruitment and follow-up, which measured how much and how quickly they were able to move air out of their lungs.

Researchers assessed occupational exposure to 12 different agents, including biological dust, gases, and fumes and pesticides.

The researchers found that:

  • Workers who were exposed to gases and fumes had a 50 percent higher risk than those who were not.
  • Workers who were exposed to biological dust had a 60 percent higher risk of COPD than those who were not.
  • Workers who were exposed to pesticides had a 120 percent higher risk of COPD than those who were not.

The researchers note that there were only a small number of pesticide cases to evaluate; however, the study shows an overall higher incidence of COPD for workers who were exposed to hazardous substances at work.

The leader of the study says that previous studies estimated that about 15 percent of COPD cases (compared to this study’s estimate of 21 percent) were attributable to workplace exposures, and that this study only serves to strengthen that evidence’s legitimacy. He also notes that this is the first study of its kind to show the effects of biological dust exposure on the incidence of COPD.

Questions to be Addressed in Future Research

Many questions remain unanswered and are open to future research. These include whether (and how) the effects of occupational exposure are modified by smoking. Smoking is a major cause of COPD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it accounts for up to eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths. Smoking can also exacerbate existing COPD, making symptoms worse.

It also remains to be seen how preexisting asthma affects the incidence of COPD. Asthma and COPD are similar, in that they are both respiratory diseases affecting airflow. Studies have shown that there is a high probability of the coexistence of asthma and COPD; about 40 percent of COPD sufferers also have asthma.

Finally, future research may reveal more details regarding the specific risks associated with particular occupations and noxious agents.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Represent Workers Who Suffered Occupational Exposure

As a Pennsylvania worker, you have the right to a safe and healthful work environment. If you were exposed to hazardous substances at work, contact our Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. to discuss your case. We will fight to prove causality between your exposure and your health condition, so you can get fair compensation for your work-related illness. We represent clients in Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County and throughout Pennsylvania. Call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form for a free consultation.

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