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Gelman: Nonsmokers Suffer From COPD

By Jon L. Gelman

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 | 504 | 0 | min read

Approximately 25% of adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have never smoked, and workplace exposures likely contribute to much of their disease.

Jon L. Gelman

Jon L. Gelman

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 24% of workers who suffer from COPD never smoked. Among them, 26%-53% of COPD can be attributed to workplace exposures, including dust, fumes, gases, vapors and secondhand smoke exposure.

The CDC reported:

“In this study, office and administrative support workers (including secretaries, administrative and dental assistants, and clerks), protective service workers and information industry workers (including publishing, telecommunications, broadcasting and data processing workers) had the highest COPD prevalences. Workers in these industries can be exposed to organic and inorganic dusts, isocyanates, irritant gases, paper dust and fumes from photocopiers, chemicals, oil-based ink, paints, glues, toxic metals and solvents, all of which are known respiratory irritants and have been associated with bronchitis, emphysema and COPD.” 

During 2013-2017, about 2.4 million (2.2%) U.S. working adults abover 18 years old who never smoked had COPD. The highest COPD prevalences among persons who never smoked were in the information (3.3%) and mining (3.1%) industries, and office and administrative support occupation workers (3.3%). Women had higher COPD prevalences than did men.

COPD is a workers’ compensation compensable condition.

In one of my publications, "Workers’ Compensation Law," I wrote:

“Occupational pulmonary disease claims are often complicated due to the nature of the exposure, which includes such factors as dosage and duration. The complexity of the human body and the problems manifested by pre-existing conditions which may be aggravated or accelerated by an occupational exposure make a tedious exercise into a complicated nightmare. Seeking a rational basis upon which to apply the law, the court is required to utilize reliable evidence concerning work environment as well as objective medical evidence establishing causal relationship.”

Efforts to reduce adverse workplace exposures and promote research to characterize the many contributing risk factors for COPD are needed to improve efforts to prevent and reduce risk for COPD among nonsmoking workers. 

Claimants' attorney Jon L. Gelman is the author of "New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law" and co-author of the national treatise "Modern Workers’ Compensation Law." He is based in Wayne, New Jersey. This blog post is republished with permission.

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