Public Release: 

Cleaning jobs linked to asthma risk

Imperial College London

A new study has found strong evidence for a link between cleaning jobs and risk of developing asthma.

Researchers at Imperial College London tracked the occurrence of asthma in a group of 9,488 people born in Britain in 1958. Not including those who had asthma as children, nine per cent developed asthma by age 42. Risks in the workplace were responsible for one in six cases of adult onset asthma - even more than the one in nine cases attributed to smoking, according to the analysis.

There are many occupations that are thought to cause asthma. In this study, 18 occupations were clearly linked with asthma risk, four of which were cleaning jobs and a further three of which were likely to involve exposure to cleaning products.

Farmers, hairdressers, and printing workers were also found to have increased risk, as previous studies have reported. Farmers were approximately four times more likely to develop asthma as an adult than office workers.

Besides cleaning products, flour, enzymes, metals, and textiles were among materials in the workplace identified in the study as being linked to asthma risk.

The study's lead author, Dr Rebecca Ghosh of the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London, said: "This study identified 18 occupations that are clearly linked with asthma risk, but there are others that did not show up in our analysis, mainly because they are relatively uncommon. Occupational asthma is widely under-recognised by employers, employees and healthcare professionals. Raising awareness that this is an almost entirely preventable disease would be a major step in reducing its incidence."

The study, published in the journal Thorax, was funded by Asthma UK and the Colt Foundation.

Malayka Rahman, Research Analysis and Communications Officer at Asthma UK, said: "This research has highlighted a new group of people, specifically those working in occupations related to cleaning, such as cleaners or home-based personal care workers, who may have developed adult onset asthma due to exposure to chemicals they work with on a daily basis. We advise anyone who works in the industries highlighted in this study and who have experienced breathing problems to discuss this with their GP, and we urge healthcare professionals to make sure they consider possible occupational causes in adult onset asthma and tailor their advice to people with asthma accordingly."

Around 5.4 million people in the UK have asthma, some of whom suffer as children and some of whom develop the disease in later life.


For further information please contact:

Sam Wong
Research Media Officer
Imperial College London
Tel: +44(0)20 7594 2198
Out of hours duty press officer: +44(0)7803 886 248

Sharon Woodward
Senior Media Relations Officer
Asthma UK
Tel: 020 7786 4983
Out of hours: 07951 721393

Notes to editors

1. R.E. Ghosh et al. 'Asthma and occupation in the 1958 birth cohort.' Thorax, 2012.

2. The 18 occupations linked with asthma risk in the study were: cooks; waiters, waitresses and bartenders; home-based personal care workers; hairdressers, barbers and beauticians; protective service workers; market-oriented crop and animal producers; aircraft engine mechanics and fitters; compositors and typesetters; sewing-machine operators; cleaners unspecified; domestic helpers and cleaners; helpers and cleaners in offices and hotels; hand-launderers and pressers; messengers, package and luggage porters and deliverers; doorkeepers and watchpersons; building construction labourers; manufacturing labourers; hand packers and other manufacturing labourers.

3. People who have asthma caused by their work are eligible to make a claim for statutory Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the Department for Work and Pensions. This scheme only covers employees and certain groups are not covered, for example, the self-employed, members of the armed services and some trainees. They may also take a civil claim for personal injury against their employer if they can demonstrate negligence.

Occupational asthma information from the Health and Safety Executive: and

4. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.


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