Respiratory symptoms and ventilatory capacity were studied in a group of 288 workers (259 women and 29 men) employed in a confectionery plant. A group of workers (96 women and 31 men) not exposed to confectionery manufacture were also studied as controls. The prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms was higher in exposed than in control workers, being greatest for confectionery workers exposed to the dust of flour, talc, and starch and the vapours of alcohol. Chronic bronchitis was reported by 7% of the women and 21% of the men, and chest tightness was reported by 27% of women and 66% of men. There was a high prevalence of acute irritative symptoms during the workshift in all groups of confectionery workers, especially for cough, dyspnoea, burning and dryness of the throat, and eye irritation. For all groups of confectionery workers there were statistically significant across shift reductions in ventilatory capacity, being most pronounced for maximum flow rate at 50% of the control vital capacity (FEF50; range 4.6-13.0%) and at 25% of the control vital capacity (FEF25; range 4.7-22.3%). Preshift values of FEF50 and FEF25 were significantly lower than predicted values. The data suggest that some workers employed in confectionery plants may develop acute and chronic respiratory symptoms associated with changes in lung function.
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