Most people know that smoking cigarettes can lead to severe lung damage, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. What they may not realize is that COPD can occur from exposure to hazardous substances at work as well. At the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), investigators are studying the causes and how to prevent COPD.

In the workplace, the risk of developing COPD may increase with exposure to certain substances such as vapors, gases, dusts, and fumes. Certain jobs carry a greater risk of these types of exposures compared to others. A fundamental part of prevention efforts involves determining which jobs are high- versus low-risk. For this study, investigators analyzed data from prior research of COPD and work exposures among members of Kaiser Permanente Northwest, an integrated health plan based in Portland, Oregon.

To classify jobs according to their risk of COPD exposures, NIOSH investigators developed a tool, or exposure matrix, to assign COPD exposure levels to the United States Census 2000 occupations. To test the accuracy of the matrix, investigators compared it to another method that uses detailed information about specific occupations, industries, and job tasks. They found that the NIOSH matrix performed better compared to this other method when categorizing jobs with a low risk of overall COPD-related exposures, especially those related to organic dust, according to their paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The investigators are now investigating the COPD exposure matrix further in other studies.

More information is available:

NIOSH Respiratory Health Division