Asthma awareness is everyone’s business


  • 1 in 10 Australain’s suffer from asthma
  • Training your people in asthma first aid can help ensure they can help if someone is in need
  • Ensure those with asthma are aware of the triggers and communicate these to close colleagues
  • Employer and employee need to work together to identify and manage triggers of asthma that can occur within the workplace.

Inhale. Exhale. It sounds simple enough. But for more than 2.5 million Australians, breathing isn’t always easy.

Asthma is a serious respiratory condition that affects the bronchial tubes that carry air into our lungs – and around 1 in 10 of us have it. In fact, you probably know someone who has asthma. And while deaths due to asthma have fallen dramatically in recent decades, it still claims the lives of more than 400 people every year.

Here are three simple steps you can take to help make sure your employees with asthma are safe at work.

Train your people in asthma first aid

All workplace first-aiders should be trained in first aid for asthma. The first aid protocol involves helping the person use their reliever puffer, if they have one, and recognising when to call an ambulance if the person is not improving.

The two most common reliever medications are salbutamol and terbutaline, which are sold under different brand names. In an emergency, if the person with asthma does not have their own reliever with them, it is ok for them to use the first aid kit inhaler or to borrow one, preferably with the support of a trained workplace first aider. If a blue-grey reliever puffer is not available, the person can have Symbicort (people over 12) or Bricanyl, even if they don’t normally use these.

If you want to put an asthma first aid poster up in your workplace, you can download one here.

Understand common asthma triggers

Asthma triggers are situations that cause the airways to become narrow and inflamed, leading to asthma symptoms. It’s important for people with asthma to know what their triggers are, so they can prepare for or avoid a situation where these triggers may be present.

Common triggers include:

  • Colds and flu
  • Cigarette smoke – including second-hand smoke
  • Allergy-related triggers – including pollen, animals, house dust mites and mould
  • Weather patterns – including cold air, changing temperatures and thunderstorms
  • Strong scents – including perfumes, air fresheners and incense
  • High emotions – including stress, anxiety and laughter

Exercise can trigger an episode too but as it is also an important part of good asthma management and a healthy lifestyle, with the appropriate care people do not need to let asthma stop them from being active.

Recognise and prevent work-related asthma

Some workplace conditions can also lead to the worsening of existing asthma or the development of new-onset asthma. This is more common than you think, affecting approximately one in five adults with asthma, and can have a big impact on businesses. It may not only reduce productivity but can also increase employment costs as some individuals must change jobs to avoid the substance that caused their asthma while others may become too disabled to work.

More than 250 substances have been linked to work-related asthma, including many chemicals used in manufacturing, paints and solvents, cleaning products, dusts from wood, grain and flour, latex gloves and animals. This means that workers in a wide range of occupations may be at risk, not just those in heavy industries.

The most effective way to help prevent work-related asthma is to eliminate or minimise exposure at the source or in the environment. If an employee develops work-related asthma, this should be seen as a warning that other workers may be at risk and that control measures should be reviewed.

As triggers differ between individuals, employers and employees need to work together to develop strategies to reduce exposure. Specific actions by employers should be guided by occupational health and safety authorities and specialists with expertise in work-related asthma.

Many thanks to Siobhan Brophy for contributing the information for this article – National Asthma Council Australia


Asthma Australia. Asthma Foundation Victoria. Fact sheet: Asthma friendly environments – your workplace [Online; accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

National Asthma Council Australia. Asthma first aid [Online; last updated Jul 2016; accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

National Asthma Council Australia. Australian Asthma handbook v1.1 [Online] 2015 [Accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

National Asthma Council Australia. First aid for asthma chart [Online] 2011 [Accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Asthma Control Initiative. Employers, employees, and worksites [Online; last updated Feb 2011; accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

NPS MedicineWise. What are reliever medicines for asthma? [Online; last updated Mar 2015; accessed Sep 2016] Available from:

State Government of Victoria. Better Health Channel. Asthma and exercise [Online; last updated Oct 2013; accessed Jul 2014] Available from:

This information has been reviewed for Bupa by health professionals and to the best of their knowledge is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice. Bupa HI Pty Ltd (and its related entities) makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the recommendations or assessments and is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health.