National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigators have found that that the highest rates of airway obstruction were in jobs related to installation, maintenance, and repair; construction; and oil and gas extraction.
Airway obstruction, which can signify lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was more common among workers in construction and oil and gas extraction than in other industry, investigators reported, after analyzing results from a nationwide survey. These findings underscore the importance of monitoring the lung function of workers in high-risk jobs.
Occupational and non-occupational exposures
A major contributor to disability and death, lung disease is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Although lung diseases such as asthma and COPD have genetic influences, hazardous occupational and environmental exposures have important causative roles. Consequently, preventing these exposures can help to prevent disease. Previous research has suggested that workers in certain jobs with exposure to vapors, gases, dust, and fumes are more likely than other workers to develop airway obstruction. Non-occupational exposures such as tobacco smoking, exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, and exposure to other forms of air pollution can also increase risk. Research identifying work-related factors in airway obstruction is vital to better recognize this risk, enable those who already have the disorder to receive treatment, and prevent future cases.
To identify jobs and other factors that increase the risk of airway obstruction, NIOSH investigators analyzed data from the 2007 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Their analysis included 4,172 working adults between the ages of 18 and 79 years, who voluntarily provided results of a test, called spirometry, which measures the ability to blow air out of the lungs. Nearly half of participants were female, and 47% were white, 20% were black, and 18% were Mexican American.
Investigators found that the highest rates of airway obstruction were in jobs related to installation, maintenance, and repair; construction; and oil and gas extraction. More than one-fifth of study participants in these jobs had airway obstruction. In other findings, cigarette smoking, even prior to the study, also correlated with a high risk of airway obstruction. Among study participants who reported ever smoking, 19% had evidence of airway obstruction on spirometry. The number of participants with airway obstruction also differed by age, sex, and race, with the highest rates among older workers aged 60–79 years, males, and non-Hispanic whites. Overall, nearly 14% of study participants had airway obstruction on spirometry. It is important to pinpoint specific jobs that increase the risk of airway obstruction and to find methods to reduce this risk, according to the investigators. In addition to further analyses of new NHANES data, future studies in this area should investigate specific industries and jobs.
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