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Original article
Costs of occupational asthma in the UK
  1. Jon G Ayres1,
  2. Richard Boyd2,
  3. Hilary Cowie3,
  4. J Fintan Hurley3
  1. 1Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, School of Health and Population Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  2. 2Metroeconomica, University of Bath, UK
  3. 3Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Jon G Ayres, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, School of Health and Population Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; j.g.ayres{at}


Objectives To estimate the social costs of occupational asthma in the UK.

Methods A desk-top approach using cost-of-illness methodology was employed, defining direct and indirect lifetime costs for six scenarios: a male and a female worker each exposed to isocyanates, latex and biocides (eg, glutaraldehyde) or flour. The numbers of new cases annually in each industry were estimated from Survey of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease (SWORD) data. The main outcome measure was the current value total working lifetime costs of new cases annually for each scenario.

Results Assuming 209 new cases of occupational asthma in the six scenarios in the year 2003, the present value total lifetime costs were estimated to be £25.3–27.3 million (2004 prices). Grossing up for all estimated cases of occupational asthma in the UK in 2003, this came to £70–100 million. About 49% of these costs were borne by the individual, 48% by the state and 3% by the employer.

Conclusions The cost to society of occupational asthma in the UK is high. 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.

  • Occupational asthma
  • costs
  • health burden
  • asthma
  • occupational lung disease
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  • Funding This study was funded by a competitively tendered project grant from the UK Health and Safety Executive. The study funder discussed and agreed the methodological approach but had no involvement in the interpretation of the data or in the decision to submit the article for publication. All authors confirm that they are independent of the funder with no responsibilities to them.

  • Competing interests All authors have had grant support but no personal support from the Health and Safety Executive for the submitted work.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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