These pages give non-technical information on how to prevent respiratory disease from working with poultry and tell you where you can get further help, if you need it.
Poultry dust is a mixture of bird feed, bedding material (eg wood shavings/shreds or straw), bird droppings, feathers and dander (dead skin), dust mites and storage mites, and micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi (moulds) and endotoxins (cell wall components of bacteria).
Respiratory disease (a disease affecting our lungs and breathing tubes) is a major occupational health risk for people working in agriculture. The number of occupational asthma cases is double the national average. Studies have shown that poultry workers exposure to poultry dust can be substantial.
Workers with occupational respiratory disease may develop permanent breathing problems, becoming disabled, and unable to work. This not only affects individual workers, but has wider cost implications for employers and the poultry industry as a whole.
Respiratory diseases are preventable. There are simple, cost-effective steps employers and workers can take to avoid respiratory disease at work, using the avoid, protect and check approach and following the guidance set out in Controlling exposure to poultry dust: An occupational hygiene standard of good working practice for poultry farmers.
People working in poultry houses breathe in many different airborne particles, which together are called poultry dust. What poultry dust is made up of depends on several things, eg the growing or production system, the type of housing, the type and age of the birds and the work itself. There are several typical activities that create airborne poultry dust, capable of causing respiratory disease:
Our respiratory or breathing system includes the mouth, nose, lungs and the tubes that connect them. Occupational respiratory disease is a medical term used to describe diseases caused by, or made worse by, something you breathe in while at work, eg poultry dust.
Poultry workers often have breathing problems at work such as:
Working with poultry dust commonly causes symptoms affecting the:
You can also get flu-like symptoms with headache, fever and muscle aches.
If you suspect you may have a respiratory problem, report your work-related symptoms to your employer and visit your doctor for advice and treatment if needed. NHS Direct also has useful information and advice on respiratory disease (asthma, aspergillosis and breathlessness), along with other associated non-respiratory disease (rhinitis and conjunctivitis).
Some occupational respiratory diseases affect the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs (our airways). Occupational asthma is an example of this sort of problem. It is caused by an allergy to something in the workplace, eg poultry dust. This type of allergy usually takes several months or even years to develop, and may also cause eye and nasal symptoms at work.
Occupational asthma causes the airways to swell and tighten; leading to symptoms of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or breathlessness at or after work. If these symptoms are better on non-work days (like weekends, rest days or holidays) then occupational asthma needs to be strongly considered.
As well as causing asthma, working with poultry dusts can also worsen symptoms in people who already have asthma.
It is much better to prevent respiratory disease by using good working practices.
See the APC approach and follow the guidance set out in Controlling exposure to poultry dust: An occupational standard of good working practice for poultry farmers
Your staff need to know about these simple steps. Further information and tools for you to inform and train workers are available in the resources pages. Finally, check regularly that all these actions are carried out in practice.
The law requires employers to adequately control exposure to materials in the workplace that cause ill health. This includes controlling exposure to poultry dust. Employers and employees need to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH). They require employers to: