Adult Asthma among Workers in Ontario. Results from the Occupational Disease Surveillance System

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2019 May;16(5):563-571. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201810-701OC.


Rationale: Given that approximately 15% of new-onset adult asthma cases originate because of exposures in the workplace, there is a need for systematic and ongoing monitoring of risk among workers. Objectives: To characterize the risk of new-onset adult asthma among workers in Ontario. Methods: We used 575,379 provincial accepted time-loss workers' compensation claimants data linked to physician billing data. Workers aged 15 to 65 years with a nonasthma compensation claim between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2013, were eligible for inclusion. Cohort entry corresponded to the date of the claim. The case definition required two or more records for asthma within a 12-month period, within a 3-year time window after cohort entry. A 3-year washout period preceding cohort entry was used to exclude prevalent cases. Workers at risk of new-onset adult asthma were followed from cohort entry date to date of diagnosis, emigration, age 65 years, death, or end of study period. Cox regression models were used to generate birth year- and sex-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) by occupation, industry, and exposures identified using a job exposure matrix. Sex-stratified risk estimates were also generated. Results: Increased risks were detected among well-recognized groups, including bakers (HR, 1.60; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.22-2.09) and painters and decorators (HR, 1.67; 95% CI, 1.23-2.28). In the job exposure matrix analysis, flour and isocyanates were associated with increased risk of asthma. Concrete finishers (HR, 1.93; 95% CI, 1.12-3.32) and shipping and receiving clerks (HR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.03-1.43) also showed elevated risk, whereas results varied across woodworker groups. Decreased risks were detected for nursing and farming groups. Conclusions: This practical data linkage approach was successful for examining associations across hundreds of jobs. Unexpected and previously unrecognized findings deserve further investigation and emphasize the importance of an ongoing system to guide research as well as prevention.

Keywords: administrative databases; cohort; data linkage.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Workers' Compensation / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult