What should my employer be doing if I work with substances that cause occupational asthma?

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, your employer has a legal duty to do a risk assessment (see our Hazards and Risks section), decide what precautions they need to take, and then prevent or adequately control your exposure. The Regulations expect employers to use a 'hierarchy of controls', which means that in the first instance your employer should:

  • eliminate the chemical, for example by changing the work process;
  • substitute the chemical for a safer one;
  • protect you from exposure to it by enclosing the process;
  • provide adequate ventilation; and
  • only then, as a last resort, rely on personal protective equipment to prevent exposure.

An additional part of the Regulations – an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) on occupational asthma – means that employers must also take specific precautions to protect workers from substances known or suspected to cause the disease.

The ACoP on occupational asthma says:

  • Employers' risk assessments must take account of how seriously ill you could become if they fail to control exposure to substances that could cause occupational asthma.
  • Employers must arrange health surveillance by an occupational health professional for workers exposed, or liable to be exposed, to substances that could cause occupational asthma.
  • Employers must have procedures for reacting to new cases of occupational asthma. If a new case is detected, your employer must have planned how to protect the affected worker, and reviewed their COSHH risk assessments to find out – and put right – what went wrong. Cases of occupational asthma notified by a doctor in writing (for example in a ‘fit note’) must be reported to the enforcing authority under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has more information on RIDDOR.
  • If you work in a job where you might be exposed to a substance that could cause asthma, your employer must provide you with information, instruction and training.

The full Approved Code of Practice for control of substances that cause occupational asthma is available on the HSE website’s asthma pages.