There is consistent evidence of increased respiratory symptoms in occupational cleaners; however, uncertainty remains on type of respiratory health effects, underlying causal agents, mechanisms and respiratory phenotypes. We aimed to conduct a systematic review and if possible, a meta-analysis of the available literature to characterise and quantify the cleaning-related respiratory health effects. We searched MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and included studies that evaluated the association of any respiratory health outcome with exposure to cleaning occupation or products in occupational cleaners. A modified GRADE was used to appraise the quality of included studies. We retrieved 1124 articles, and after applying our inclusion criteria, 39 were selected for the systematic review. We performed a meta-analysis of the 21 studies evaluating asthma which showed a 50% increased pooled relative risk in cleaners (meta-relative risk (RR)=1.50; 95% CI 1.44 to 1.56). Population-based cross-sectional studies showed more stable associations with asthma risk. No evidence of atopic asthma as dominant phenotype emerged. Also, we estimated a 43% increased risk (meta-RR=1.43; 95% CI 1.31 to 1.56) of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Evidence for associations with bronchial-hyper-responsiveness, lung function decline, rhinitis, upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms was weaker. In our systematic review and meta-analysis, we found that working as a cleaner is associated with an increased risk of reversible and even irreversible obstructive airway diseases. All studies lacked quantitative exposure assessment to cleaning products; this would help elucidate underlying causal agents and mechanisms. Exposure control and respiratory surveillance among cleaners is warranted to prevent the associated respiratory health burden. Trial registration number: CRD4201705915.
- public health
- occupational health
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Deceased SS since deceased
Contributors SS performed the systematic review as part of his BSc Research project at Imperial College London under the supervision of SDM and OA, and his work was key to write the present work. SS died before this article was prepared in its current form. SS and OA performed the literature review. SDM and DJ designed the project. SDM performed the meta-analyses. DC performed the literature search update and related tables’ amendments. SDM, OA, DC and DJ revised and approved the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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