Occupational and work-related respiratory disease attributed to cleaning products

Occup Environ Med. 2019 Aug;76(8):530-536. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105646. Epub 2019 Jun 5.


Objectives: Exposure to cleaning products has been associated with adverse respiratory outcomes. This study aimed to investigate the medically reported incidence, trends in incidence and occupational determinants of work-related respiratory disorders attributed to cleaning agents and to explore the role of 'Quantitative Structure Activity Relationships' (QSAR) in corroborating the identification of chemical respiratory sensitisers.

Methods: Respiratory diagnoses attributed to cleaning agents were extracted from The Health and Occupation Research (THOR) surveillance network, 1989-2017. Incidence, trends in incidence and incidence rate ratios by occupation were investigated. Agents were classified by chemical type and QSAR hazard indices were determined for specific organic chemicals.

Results: Approximately 6% (779 cases) of the (non-asbestos) THOR respiratory cases were attributed to cleaning agents. Diagnoses were predominantly asthma (58%) and inhalation accidents (27%) with frequently reported chemical categories being aldehydes (30%) and chlorine/its releasers (26%). No significant trend in asthma incidence (1999-2017) was observed (annual average change of -1.1% (95% CI -4.4 to 2.4)). This contrasted with a statistically significant annual decline in asthma incidence (-6.8% (95% CI -8.0 to -5.6)) for non-cleaning agents. There was a large variation in risk between occupations. 7 of the 15 organic chemicals specifically identified had a QSAR generated hazard index consistent with being a respiratory sensitiser.

Conclusion: Specific occupations appear to be at increased risk of adverse respiratory outcomes attributed to cleaning agents. While exposure to agents such as glutaraldehyde have been addressed, other exposures, such as to chlorine, remain important. Chemical features of the cleaning agents helped distinguish between sensitising and irritant agents.

Keywords: asthma epidemiology; asthma mechanisms; occupational lung disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aldehydes / adverse effects
  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Chlorine / adverse effects
  • Disinfectants / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Household Products / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / chemically induced
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Aldehydes
  • Disinfectants
  • Chlorine