RR1117 - A literature review of evidence on cleaning products and occupational risks for asthma

Occupational asthma is a debilitating illness, caused by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. The UK cleaning sector employs nearly half a million people using a variety of products and processes that have the potential to cause respiratory diseases.

A review of the published scientific literature was undertaken to summarise evidence about cleaning products that may increase the risk of occupational asthma. The overall breadth, consistency and quality of the evidence were assessed.

There were few high quality studies and only three related specifically to the UK cleaning sector. From the available evidence, there was consistent evidence that certain types of cleaning work were associated with an increased risk of developing asthma and/or experiencing respiratory symptoms consistent with asthma, both new cases and exacerbations of pre-existing conditions.

An excess of asthma and respiratory symptoms were reported in studies of healthcare workers and domestic cleaners; this excess may reflect a selection bias for studies favouring these populations.

A broad spectrum of cleaning products was reported to cause respiratory symptoms, particularly chlorine-liberating agents and bleaches. Spray application of cleaning products was also associated with increased risk for respiratory disease.

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Updated 2021-04-15