Study examines role of “QACs” in occupational asthma
A new study confirms a link between specific chemicals commonly found in disinfectants and cleaning products with an increased risk of developing asthma.
Quaternary ammonium compounds or “QAC”, long suspected of inducing occupational asthma, are at the center of this latest research.
A growing body of existing research has shown that exposure to cleaning and disinfecting products is associated with an increased risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Specific studies have identified an increased risk in nurses.
Intensified cleaning and disinfection during the pandemic directly and indirectly exposed more workers to toxic chemicals used to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Given the risk of transmission from contaminated surfaces or objects is considered weak, workplaces will want to review these practices and also implement the use of safer cleaning products. Appropriate training of joint health and safety committees, worker health and safety representatives, workers and supervisors can also help.
Workers affected, more than cleaners
For that to study, a team of European researchers, member of a major network studying occupational asthma, set out to examine how quaternary ammonium compounds (CAQ) contribute to occupational asthma.
The researchers conducted a retrospective observational study using data on 871 people collected between 2006 and 2018 who had a positive bronchoprovocation (BPT) test when exposed to professional agents. The test assesses the reaction or response of the lungs when inhaling substances known to cause asthma. The researchers identified 55 of the 871 people who tested positive for asthma and who were also exposed to cleaning agents. Using safety data sheets, they looked at cleaning products known to be potential respiratory sensitizers. Study participants were grouped according to their exposure to pulmonary sensitizers.
From their analysis, the researchers concluded: “…. exposure to CAQs should be considered a potential cause of Awareness-induced occupational asthma among workers involved in cleaning and disinfection tasks. Specifically, they found the following.
- Forty percent of people who were exposed to cleaning products in their workplace (22/55) had CAQ-induced asthma, which ruled out any exposure to other respiratory sensitizers.
- The CAQs most associated with positive BPT results were didecyldimethylammonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride.
- Most of the study participants who developed CAQ-induced asthma worked in healthcare settings (63.6 percent). The majority were cleaners and nurses, but also included a technologist and a dental assistant.
- Two workers with CAQ-induced asthma were indirectly exposed to cleaning products and worked in administration, one in a school and one in a healthcare facility.
While this study adds to a growing body of evidence, the authors identify the need for greater collection and further study of CAQ exposures in the workplace, noting: “… precise sampling analysis methods were only recently developed to detect very low levels of CAQ in air.
Awareness and action are needed to identify and reduce workplace exposures that can contribute to diseases such as work-related asthma. Training is a great place to start.
If your workplace employs 20 or more workers or has a designated substance on site, a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is required. Employers must also ‘complete’ certification training for at least two members of the CMSS, a worker representative and a management representative, including JHSC Certification Part I, JHSC Certification Part II, and JHSC Certification Recall. These programs are offered in safe and convenient WHSC virtual classrooms.
Employers of federally regulated workplaces have similar training obligations, including those intended for members of joint workplace health and safety committees and policies. Like their counterparts in provincially regulated workplaces, these committee members play an important role in developing programs to address workplace hazards.
Equally important, your workplace should complete or review your WHMIS training. A surprising number did not. For example, many of them have not completely switched from original WHMIS to globally harmonized WHMIS (GHS). We offer regularly scheduled GHS-WHMIS programs in our safe and convenient online virtual classrooms.
Can’t see what you need? Beyond scheduled courses, and when the number of participants warrants it, we can work with you to coordinate almost all of our training courses, including our Chemical hazards training program for all your workers, workplace representatives and supervisors.
Resources related to the CSST:
WHSC Hazard Information Line: Occupational Asthma – Purifying the Air
WHSC Cleaning and Disinfection: Confronting COVID-19
WHSC Evaluating Disinfectants For Use Against COVID-29 Virus
WHSC Webinar: Safer COVID-19 Disinfectants