Occupational Asthma Reference

Liss GM, Tarlo SM, Banks D, Yeung KS, Schweigert M, Preliminary report of mortality among workers compensated for work-related asthma, Am J Industr Med, 1999;35:465-471,

Keywords: Canada, mortality, occupational asthma, oa, compensation, death

Known Authors

Garry Liss, Toronto Garry Liss

Susan Tarlo, Toronto Susan Tarlo

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BACKGROUND: Although fatalities due to asthma have been reported among subjects with occupational asthma (OA) associated with re-exposure, groups of subjects with work-related asthma have not been systematically followed up for mortality. During a review of compensation claims for asthma in Ontario, we identified 3 respiratory deaths among subjects previously compensated for OA for whom their surviving spouses received death benefits. This suspected "cluster" prompted us to undertake an investigation to examine mortality pattern among workers compensated for work-related asthma.

METHODS: Subjects receiving compensation for OA or aggravation of asthma (AA) between 1980 and 1993, and a comparison sample of workers with claims for musculoskeletal injuries during the same period were identified from the Ontario Workers' Compensation Board. We also identified another comparison group of non-compensated asthmatic patients seen at a hospital clinic during the same period. The files of those with work-related asthma were reviewed to determine if OA or AA was adequately documented. Mortality was ascertained by linkage with the Mortality Database at the Ontario Cancer Registry through 1996. We compared the mortality of the three groups with that expected in the general population of Ontario using SMRs, and directly by proportional-hazards regression.

RESULTS: The study included 3,070 subjects: 1,112 with work-related OA/AA with adequate documentation, 1,556 with work-related injuries, and 402 patients with non-work-related asthma. Of the 66 deaths identified, only 2 deaths were due to asthma, both in the work-related asthma group: one from the index cluster and one not previously identified. A second index death was coded as dying from COPD not elsewhere classified (ICD9 496), while the third index death also died of asthma but there was not sufficient information documenting OA to include the subject in the analyses. As compared with the general population, there were fewer deaths than expected from most causes, except for deaths among the work-related asthma claimants and the nonwork-related asthma patients from respiratory diseases (SMRs 1.3 and 5.9, respectively; 0.5 among injury claimants), all chronic obstructive lung disease (ICD9 490-496; SMRs 2.3 and 7.7, respectively), and asthma (SMRs 18.2 and 0, respectively). In direct comparison of the work-related asthma claimants with the injury claimants, the risk of death appeared elevated from respiratory disease (RR 2.6) and ischemic heart disease (IHD) (RR 2.8) but the confidence intervals included unity.

CONCLUSIONS: This preliminary report raises the possibility that serious outcomes, including excess deaths from respiratory disease, in particular asthma, may occur among those with work-related asthma even in the absence of re-exposure. However, the findings are inconclusive given that the number of deaths was small and we identified only one new asthma death in addition to the index cluster. We also observed for the first time that deaths due to circulatory disease, particularly IHD, may also be increased among such workers; this needs to be confirmed elsewhere

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