Occupational asthma costs are high, and U.K. employers bear little of the costs, a study found.

UK Employers Escaping Occupational Asthma Costs

Individuals and the government bear about all of the costs, according to the study.

Occupational asthma costs are high in the United Kingdom, according to a new study published in Thorax, an international journal of respiratory medicine. Jon G. Ayres of the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, School of Health and Population Sciences, at the University of Birmingham, UK (j.g.ayres@bham.ac.uk) and colleagues concluded.

They used a "desk-top approach using cost-of-illness methodology," defining direct and indirect lifetime costs for six scenarios: a male and a female worker each exposed to isocyanates, latex and biocides (e.g., glutaraldehyde) or flour. Annual new cases in each industry were estimated from Survey of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease (SWORD) data.

They assumed 209 new cases of occupational asthma were in the six scenarios in 2003, then calculated the present value total lifetime costs to be £25.3–27.3 million (2004 prices). This made the total cost of £70–100 million. About 49 percent of the costs were borne by individuals, 48 percent by the government, and 3 percent by employers.

"The cost to society of occupational asthma in the UK is high," they concluded. "Given that the number of newly diagnosed cases is likely to be underestimated by at least one-third, these costs may be as large as £95–135 million. Each year a new stream of lifetime costs will be added as a newly diagnosed cohort is identified. Approaches to reduce the burden of occupational asthma have a strong economic justification. However, the economic burden falls on the state and the individual, not on the employer. The incentive for employers to act is thus weak."

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