Thorax 64:6-12 doi:10.1136/thx.2008.099390
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Occupational exposures and the risk of COPD: dusty trades revisited

  1. P D Blanc1,
  2. C Iribarren2,
  3. L Trupin3,
  4. G Earnest1,
  5. P P Katz3,
  6. J Balmes1,
  7. S Sidney2,
  8. M D Eisner1,2
  1. 1
    Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine & Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA
  2. 2
    Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California, USA
  3. 3
    Institute for Health Policy Studies, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA
  1. Dr M D Eisner, University of California, San Francisco, 350 Parnassus Avenue, Ste 609, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA; mark.eisner{at}
  • Received 20 March 2008
  • Accepted 14 July 2008
  • Published Online First 4 August 2008


Background: The contribution of occupational exposures to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, in particular, their potential interaction with cigarette smoking remains underappreciated.

Methods: Data from the FLOW study of 1202 subjects with COPD (of which 742 had disease classified as stage II or above by Global Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) criteria) and 302 referent subjects matched by age, sex and race recruited from a large managed care organisation were analysed. Occupational exposures were assessed using two methods: self-reported exposure to vapours, gas, dust or fumes on the longest held job (VGDF) and a job exposure matrix (JEM) for probability of exposure based on occupation. Multivariate analysis was used to control for age, sex, race and smoking history. The odds ratio (OR) and adjusted population attributable fraction (PAF) associated with occupational exposure were calculated.

Results: VGDF exposure was associated with an increased risk of COPD (OR 2.11; 95% CI 1.59 to 2.82) and a PAF of 31% (95% CI 22% to 39%). The risk associated with high probability of workplace exposure by JEM was similar (OR 2.27; 95% CI 1.46 to 3.52), although the PAF was lower (13%; 95% CI 8% to 18%). These estimates were not substantively different when the analysis was limited to COPD GOLD stage II or above. Joint exposure to both smoking and occupational factors markedly increased the risk of COPD (OR 14.1; 95% CI 9.33 to 21.2).

Conclusions: Workplace exposures are strongly associated with an increased risk of COPD. On a population level, prevention of both smoking and occupational exposure, and especially both together, is needed to prevent the global burden of disease.


  • Funding: NHLBI/NIH R01HL077618.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: The study was approved by the University of California, San Francisco Committee on Human Research and the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute’s institutional review board and all participants provided written informed consent.