Asthma in the Workplace
Last updated: October 2022
Everyone has a different experience with their asthma and how it impacts their daily life. We often talk about how asthma impacts exercise, and how different foods or allergens can contribute to asthma symptoms or physical limitations that are brought on by asthma symptoms. But what about the workplace? Some people work an average of 40 hours a week, so it seems inevitable that asthma symptoms will affect work and the workplace at some point during a person with asthma's career.
My last job before becoming disabled, presented a couple of challenges for my asthma, to the point that I had to have ADA accommodations made to ensure that I was able to work in a safe environment. I am thankful that my asthma doctor recognized some of the dangers of my workplace and was able to help me get the accommodations that I needed.
Air intake issue: A reason for accommodations
The first issue I faced was from the generator that was housed right outside my office building. Every two weeks, the generator was turned on to make sure it was working. This is great and all, because we have to have the power to work, but the problem was that the air intake for the office was located right next to the generator. Every time the generator fired up, exhaust fumes would be pumped into the office. For me, these fumes were a recipe for an asthma attack and a trip to the ER.
After getting in touch with maintenance, we figured out that the air intake could be turned off during the times the generator was started up and then turned back on once the fumes had dissipated. While this worked most of the time, there was the rare occasion that the generator would kick on before the air intake was turned off. When that happened, I had three options. I could take a break from work and go outside until the fumes cleared, I could go work in a more secluded office where I could close the door and physically block out the fumes, or if it was bad enough, I could just be excused home for the day.
Office set up: Needing a designated space
The other issue I had was with how the office itself was set up. Our work environment was set up like a call center. There were lots of computer stations on an open floor plan. This would not have been a huge issue except for the fact that there were no assigned workstations. It was pretty much a free-for-all when shifts changed. This posed particular risks for the spread of germs, and being on frequent steroids meant that I usually had a compromised immune system.
So I was assigned a dedicated workstation. It was a safe zone for me and I did not have to worry about people sitting at my computer and getting their germs all over everything. While the office did have disinfecting protocols in place, having my own workstation provided an extra layer of protection for me.
Asthma in the workplace
I know there are work environments that pose more and different risks for people with asthma. I am thankful that I was able to get the accommodations I needed and that they were relatively easy to put in place.
Do you have accommodations at your workplace? If so, let us know what they are down in the comments.
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?