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Original Article
Occupational and work-related respiratory disease attributed to cleaning products
  1. Melanie Carder,
  2. Martin J Seed,
  3. Annemarie Money,
  4. Raymond M Agius,
  5. Martie van Tongeren
  1. Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Melanie Carder, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; melanie.carder{at}


Objectives Exposure to cleaning products has been associated with adverse respiratory outcomes. This study aimed to investigate the medically reported incidence, trends in incidence and occupational determinants of work-related respiratory disorders attributed to cleaning agents and to explore the role of ‘Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships’ (QSAR) in corroborating the identification of chemical respiratory sensitisers.

Methods Respiratory diagnoses attributed to cleaning agents were extracted from The Health and Occupation Research (THOR) surveillance network, 1989–2017. Incidence, trends in incidence and incidence rate ratios by occupation were investigated. Agents were classified by chemical type and QSAR hazard indices were determined for specific organic chemicals.

Results Approximately 6% (779 cases) of the (non-asbestos) THOR respiratory cases were attributed to cleaning agents. Diagnoses were predominantly asthma (58%) and inhalation accidents (27%) with frequently reported chemical categories being aldehydes (30%) and chlorine/its releasers (26%). No significant trend in asthma incidence (1999–2017) was observed (annual average change of −1.1% (95% CI −4.4 to 2.4)). This contrasted with a statistically significant annual decline in asthma incidence (−6.8% (95% CI −8.0 to −5.6)) for non-cleaning agents. There was a large variation in risk between occupations. 7 of the 15 organic chemicals specifically identified had a QSAR generated hazard index consistent with being a respiratory sensitiser.

Conclusion Specific occupations appear to be at increased risk of adverse respiratory outcomes attributed to cleaning agents. While exposure to agents such as glutaraldehyde have been addressed, other exposures, such as to chlorine, remain important. Chemical features of the cleaning agents helped distinguish between sensitising and irritant agents.

  • asthma epidemiology
  • asthma mechanisms
  • occupational lung disease

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  • Contributors MC, RMA and MJS designed the study. MC and AM collected and prepared the data. MC and MJS performed data analysis and drafted the article. RMA, MvT and AM input into the methodology and revised the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK (contract number PRJ500).

  • Disclaimer The information and views set out in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Health and Safety Executive.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.