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In honour of World COPD Day, we’re taking a deeper look at why workers in fume and dust-rich environments are more vulnerable to it, and how you can help protect your people from developing it.

What is COPD?

COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a group of lung conditions, including bronchitis and emphysema, which narrow a person’s airway, making it difficult for them to breathe.

That might sound like asthma – and they do share common traits. The main difference is that where asthma comes and goes depending on external triggers, COPD is something sufferers live with 24/7.

Around 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a lung disease each week. It’s one of the four main killers among disease groups, and accounts for more than 700,000 hospital admissions each year; a particularly troubling statistic in the times of COVID-19.

doctor looking at lung xray

COPD happens when someone (usually over the age of 35) regularly breathes in noxious chemicals or respirable dust which damages the respiratory system. This can harm their lungs, make mucus block part of their airway, or even inflame their entire airway.

In terms of external factors that lead to this, there are two main causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Most cases (around 75%) are caused by people either smoking, or inhaling second-hand smoke.
  • The other 25% are mostly attributed to breathing in other hazardous chemicals, fumes and dust.

That makes those working in fume and dust-rich industries much more liable to contract COPD.

To put it another way, if one person in the UK dies from lung disease every five minutes, then every 20 minutes one of those deaths is someone who contracted it in a more innocuous way – like on their commute, or actually on the job.

In rare cases, genetic factors can also play a part. Susceptibility to COPD does seem to run in families, and a rare condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes someone especially likely to develop a chronic lung disease from an atypically young age.

In terms of prevention, however, it’s clear from that list where proactive precautions can truly be taken.

Ways to prevent COPD

Primary prevention of COPD really comes down to just a few things:

Stop smoking
Or if you’re a non-smoker, avoid the temptation to take up the habit in the first place.

Avoid second-hand smoke
In public, keep away from designated outdoor smoking areas. In private enclosed spaces like homes and cars, request that friends and relatives not smoke around you – or leave the vicinity if they do.

Ensure workplaces are properly filtered for pollutants

welder creating fumes

If you’re an employee working in a fume-heavy environment, talk to your employer about how they can better protect you against the kinds of damaging particles that, over time, can lead to COPD.

If you’re an employer, there are two key pieces of legislation you’ll need to make sure your business complies with in order to protect your people from COPD.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 broadly covers duties you have towards your employees and their safety.

More specific however is the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), which outlines the chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours and more that employers must legally protect workers from, and the lengths they must legally go to in order to do so.

Not sure if your business conforms to COSHH standards? The HSE website can walk you through assessing your environment, including preparing for and performing the assessment itself. It also offers advice sheets and an online e-tool to help you make sure your business is up to spec.

With these tools, you’ll be in a better position to know the risks to your people and, the type of equipment you may need to keep them safe depending on your industry.

How we can help

At VODEX, we offer a number of solutions to help you extract airborne dust and fumes in the workplace.

Our sophisticated filtration systems are designed around the needs of your industry – including some workplaces you might not necessarily consider might need them in the first place.

From art studios to automotive garages; building sites to beauty salons; and even food processing plants to dental surgeries, we offer robust, efficient solutions to help keep your people safe from serious lung disease.

Not sure what extraction solution is best? Get in touch with us today to find out more.

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