Relationships between asthma and work exposures among non-domestic cleaners in Ontario

Am J Ind Med. 2009 Sep;52(9):716-23. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20730.


Background: Cleaners have been reported to have increased risk for work-related asthma symptoms but few studies have studied non-domestic cleaners. In this study, we compared work-related asthma symptoms among cleaners and other building workers and determined associations with tasks.

Methods: School and racetrack workers in Ontario, Canada, completed a questionnaire to identify the prevalence of cleaning tasks, physician-diagnosed asthma, new-onset asthma, respiratory symptoms, and work-related asthma symptoms.

Results: Cleaners and controls had a similar prevalence of most asthma outcomes although female cleaners reported significantly more respiratory symptoms; odds ratio (OR), 2.59 confidence intervals (CI) 1.6-4.3, and work-related asthma symptoms, OR 3.90 (CI 2.1-7.4) compared with female controls with adjustment for age and smoking history. Male cleaners showed a non-significant trend to more physician-diagnosed asthma, adjusted OR 2.10 (CI 0.9-4.8) and work-related asthma symptoms, adjusted OR 1.53 (CI 0.8-3.0). The work-related asthma symptoms among men were significantly associated with waxing floors, OR 2.19 (CI 1.0-4.4); wax-stripping floors, OR 2.54 (1.2-5.2); spot-cleaning carpets, OR 2.20 (1.3-3.8); and cleaning tiles, OR 4.46 (1.0-19.3) and grout, OR 2.12 (1.1-4.0).

Conclusions: Female cleaners have more asthma symptoms worse at work than controls. Work-related asthma symptoms among male cleaners were associated with a number of specific cleaning tasks. Findings suggest the need for school cleaners to have reduced exposure to cleaning chemicals and need for protective strategies during performance of tasks expected to exacerbate asthma, such as wax stripping.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Detergents / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Household Work*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Odds Ratio
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Distribution


  • Detergents