Public health importance of work-related asthma

Workplace exposures are responsible for the development of an estimated 10 - 20% of all new onset adult asthma cases. Asthma has become the most prevalent work-related lung disease in the United States. Work-related asthma is a serious and sometimes fatal disease.

Workplace exposures to fumes, gases, vapors or dusts may aggravate asthma in a worker with preexisting asthma or may cause asthma for the first time in a previously healthy worker. Currently there are more than 350 substances used in the workplace that are known to cause asthma, including wood dusts, isocyanates, epoxies and certain adhesives.

From 1995 to 2002, the Washington State workers' compensation claims rate for work-related asthma increased by 63%, from 7.9 claims per 100,000 full-time equivalents (FTE) to 12.9 claims per 100,000 FTEs. In July 2000, the public health importance of occupational asthma in the state of Washington was recognized when the State Board of Health made asthma a reportable condition.

Work-related asthma is preventable. Engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and employer/employee education are all potential strategies that can be used to prevent this serious illness. Early identification of disease and appropriate clinical management may prevent significant work disability.

For more information about work-related asthma as a reportable condition in Washington State, visit SHARP's Reporting Work‑related Asthma Cases page.

Purpose and operation of the surveillance system


The purpose of this system is to identify patterns and trends that can be used to reduce, through prevention, the occupational risks associated with work‑related asthma.


  • Describe the incidence and prevalence of work‑related asthma.
  • Identify high risk occupations and industries.
  • Identify useful preventive strategies.
  • Generate hypotheses about causative agents and factors.

Planned uses

  • Identifying clusters of work-related asthma.
  • Analyzing risks by occupation and industry.
  • Tracking trends in incidence and prevalence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers, public health professionals, and labor and industry stakeholders.

Surveillance case definition

Any Washington worker who has been diagnosed with asthma caused or exacerbated by workplace exposures.

Legal authority

On July 12, 2000 the Washington State Board of Health adopted revisions to the Washington Administrative Code Chapter 246 Section 101 (WAC 246‑101) making occupational asthma a reportable condition ( for health care providers and health care facilities.

Organizational location

The surveillance system is located within the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

System components

Population under surveillance

Workers employed within the state of Washington.

Time period of data collection

Data collection under the revised reporting rule began in September 2000.

Collection and reporting sources

Cases are received from two sources:

  • The workers' compensation database.
  • Reporting physicians.

First, workers' compensation claims with the word 'asthma' in the text of the report of accident form are identified. Certain information, including the employer, industry and occupation codes, and claim cost data are extracted from the workers' compensation database and imported into a Microsoft Access database. An analyst views the report of accident form and other records associated with the claim to verify that it was indeed filed for work related asthma.

Second, physicians report cases directly to the SHARP Program using a confidential case reporting form. Cases are interviewed by phone to gather additional data, including information on workplace exposures and medical history.

Data management

The surveillance system is maintained as a Microsoft Access database. This relational database management system has the tools to add, delete and update records; to perform automated edit checks during data entry; to identify duplicate records; and to perform the queries needed to maintain the database, identify clusters and create a variety of reports and graphs. Case reports from providers and case interviews are entered manually. The process of extracting data from claims in the workers' compensation database is automated and occurs monthly.

Data analysis and dissemination

Case data are analyzed periodically for clusters by industry and occupation. Dissemination of educational information is a routine part of case follow-up. Each case is sent educational materials prior to a telephone interview.

Patient privacy, data confidentiality, and system security

All records containing or accompanied by patient identifying information are confidential. These records are used solely for surveillance and prevention purposes. All hard copies of case information are kept in locked cabinets. Access to the surveillance database is protected by its own password system. Passwords are issued only to authorized SHARP personnel. Additionally, physical access to the building and access to individual computers are controlled as part of the security systems of the Department of Labor & Industries.

Asthma resources developed by the SHARP program

Information for physicians

Learn more about Diagnosing Work‑Related Asthma (277 KB PDF) and receive one free hour of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit by completing the Post Activity Evaluation (57 KB MS Word).


Work-related asthma reports and educational materials are available from SHARP's Publications page.

Surveillance tools

These materials may be downloaded to your system and modified for your use. Please reference the source.

Letters for physicians and patients

Patient interview form

Questions and answers on SHARP's asthma program

Other work-related asthma information

Disclaimer regarding links to other websites

Links to non-L&I Web sites are provided as a courtesy to customers when L&I considers that external Web content to be useful and valuable to the public. However, we cannot vouch for, or take responsibility for, information contained on websites not administered by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

References in this website, or links from this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of visitors to this site, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, or its officers, employees or agents.

For more information, read L&I's Intended Use/External Content policy.

Links to other Web sites

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