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Original research
Lifetime occupational exposures and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease risk in the UK Biobank cohort


Background and aim Occupational exposures are important, preventable causes of COPD. We previously found an increased risk of COPD among six occupations by analysing lifetime job histories and lung function data in the population-based UK Biobank cohort. We aimed to build on these findings and elucidate the underlying potential causal agents to focus preventive strategies.

Methods We applied the ALOHA+job exposure matrix (JEM) based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations V.1988 codes, where exposure to 12 selected agents was rated as 0 (no exposure), 1 (low) or 2 (high). COPD was spirometrically defined as FEV1/FVC less than the lower limit of normal. We calculated semiquantitative cumulative exposure estimates for each agent by multiplying the duration of exposure and squared intensity. Prevalence ratio (PR) and 95% CI for COPD were estimated using robust Poisson regression adjusted for centre, sex, age, smoking and coexposure to JEM agents. Only associations confirmed among never-smokers and never-asthmatics were considered reliable.

Results Out of 116 375 participants with complete job histories, 94 514 had acceptable/repeatable spirometry and smoking data and were included in the analysis. Pesticide exposure showed increased risk of COPD for ever exposure (PR=1.13, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.28) and high cumulative exposure (PR=1.32, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.56), with positive exposure–response trends (p trend=0.004), which were confirmed among never-smokers (p trend=0.005) and never-asthmatics (p trend=0.001).

Conclusion In a large population-based study, occupational exposure to pesticides was associated with risk of COPD. Focused preventive strategies for workers exposed to pesticides can prevent the associated COPD burden.

  • occupational lung disease
  • COPD epidemiology

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. We used UK Biobank data to analyse and report the findings. Data access policy can be obtained from

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