Researchers have discovered a link between workplace exposures to inhalants and rheumatoid arthritis and are urging employers to better protect workers.
A study published in the “Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases” says workers exposed to fumes from gases, vapors and solvents are at increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by severe joint pain and inflammation.
The researchers behind the study also found that exposure to such inhalants appeared to increase the risk in smokers and those with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
The findings, compiled by researchers with the Department of Rheumatology, Inflammation and Immunity at Brigham and Women̵7;s Hospital in Boston, showed that fumes from materials such as asbestos, diesel fuel, gasoline and fungicides were associated with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
The researchers emphasized the importance of occupational respiratory protection, especially for workers with a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis.
“Obviously you can’t change your genetics,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sparks, one of the researchers. “Certainly, anything you can do to reduce that risk by limiting exposure,” is beneficial.
Dr. Sparks said the findings show employers should take the health threats posed by exposure to hazardous inhalants seriously.
“Companies are going to have to figure out how to get the job done,” Dr Sparks said. “The actual individual has to think about their comfort and functionality. If there’s a cleaner way of doing the job, that would also help.”
The study, which involved 4,033 people of various ages, looked at the general population. The data were not limited to specific types of jobs or industries, but researchers measured a total of 47 unique exposures, Dr. Sparks said.
The immediate impact on workers’ compensation cases is not clear, but Alan Gurvey, a workers’ compensation attorney in Sherman Oaks, Calif., with Rowen, Gurvey & Win, said legal precedent allows workers to offset claims in cases where medical research ties a workplace to inhalants. to a resulting state.
“Because workers’ compensation appeals boards are looking at medical research that will support and justify the claim in respect of the condition that has been asserted, it becomes quite simple that any evidence that comes out will certainly be compelling,” Mr. Gurvey.
Mr. Gurvey said he has worked on cases involving scant evidence linking occupational inhalation exposure and a resulting diagnosis, and judges still ruled in favor of the workers.
Mr. Gurvey cited a win in a case where a client died of colon cancer believed to be linked to radiation exposure from his 27-year career in cable repair.
“It was a huge victory to know that we had shown enough without strong research that tied the two together,” Mr. Gurvey.
Jenifer Kaufman, an attorney in Abington, Pennsylvania, cautioned that the study’s findings are preliminary.
“This is certainly an interesting and novel study,” Kaufman, who runs Kaufman Workers’ Compensation Law, wrote in an email. “I’ve handled lots of occupational disease claims for respiratory problems caused by inhalers/irritants at work.”
She said the research is “limited by its reliance on self-report of exposures and does not control for smoking.”
“I don’t think this is a game changer for worker practitioners right now, but if further and more scientific studies are completed, it could be down the road,” she said.