Respiratory Hazards and Occupational Respiratory Disease

Respiratory Hazards and Occupational Respiratory Disease

Respiratory hazards usually arise from exposure to substances hazardous to health which are small enough to be inhaled or breathed in, such as dust, fumes, spores, or bacteria. Sometimes, substances absorbed through the skin can also be hazardous to the respiratory system.

Exposure can cause Occupational Respiratory Disease. This is a term which covers a group of different respiratory conditions which affect your lungs in different ways. They include:

It is important to ensure that you manage these hazards so that the risk to health is eliminated or reduced so far as reasonably practicable. Respirable hazards are usually (but not always!) identified on the manufacturer’s safety data sheet but should always be identified in your COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessments.

It is important to check both Sections 3 of the Safety Data Sheet for respiratory sensitisers and skin sensitisers. These are identified with the Hazard Statement H334: may cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled; or H317 may cause an allergic skin reaction. They may not be included in the overall classification of the chemical in Section 2 of the Safety Data Sheet due to the small concentrations but they can still cause an allergic response. Watch out for the pictograms below which may indicate a risk.


Danger sign


Warning sign

Some substances that cause respiratory problems may not come with a Safety Data Sheet but can be as hazardous to health as those that do. These include:

Exposure monitoring (fumes and dust surveys) may be required to determine the extent of the risk from respiratory hazards. Specialist advice may also be required if you are using small (or large!) amounts of different chemicals within a process as the chemicals may interact with each other to create another risk.

If there is a residual risk to health following the implementation of your safe systems of work, respiratory health surveillance is required as per Regulation 11 of the COSHH Regulations 2002.

If you would like practical support and a straight forward simple approach to COSHH assessments that will allow you to have confidence in your assessments and risk management strategy, please contact us. We can provide you with COSHH Training and Assessment Support package to meet your needs.

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Published date: 20th March 2018

Last revision: 10th June 2020

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