The New Zealand workforce survey II: occupational risk factors for asthma

Ann Occup Hyg. 2010 Mar;54(2):154-64. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/mep098. Epub 2010 Jan 15.


Introduction: We conducted a cross-sectional population-based survey in New Zealand that collected information on work history, current workplace exposures, and selected health outcomes. We report here the findings on occupational risk factors for asthma symptoms.

Methods: A random sample of men and women aged 20-64 years were selected from the New Zealand Electoral Roll and invited to take part in a telephone survey. Current asthma was defined as: (i) woken up by shortness of breath in the past 12 months; or (ii) an attack of asthma in the past 12 months; or (iii) currently taking asthma medication. Adult-onset asthma was defined as first attack of asthma at age 18 or over. Prevalence odds ratios (ORs) for all occupations were calculated using logistic regression adjusting for sex, age, smoking, and deprivation.

Results: Totally, 2903 participants were included in the analyses. The prevalence of current asthma was 17% and the prevalence of adult-onset asthma was 9%. Prevalence ORs for current asthma were elevated for ever working as a printer [OR = 2.26; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.09-4.66], baker (OR = 1.98; 95% CI = 1.02-3.85), sawmill labourer (OR = 3.26; 95% CI = 1.05-10.16), metal processing plant operator (OR = 2.48; 95% CI = 1.22-5.05), and cleaner (OR = 1.60; 95% CI = 1.09-2.35). Excess risks of adult-onset asthma were also found for ever working as a printer, baker, and sawmill labourer as well as ever-working as a market-oriented animal producer (OR = 1.66; 95% CI = 1.14-2.41), and other agricultural worker (OR = 2.08; 95% CI = 1.03-4.20). A number of occupations not previously considered at high risk for asthma were also identified, including teachers and certain sales professionals.

Conclusion: This population-based study has confirmed findings of previous international studies showing elevated risks in a number of high-risk occupations. The strongest risks were consistently observed for printers, bakers, and sawmill labourers. Several occupations were also identified that have not been previously associated with asthma, suggesting that the risk of occupational asthma may be more widely spread across the workforce than previously assumed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult