The aims of this study were to document the prevalence of work related upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms in workers exposed to organic dusts and to identify variables predictive of their occurrence.Methods
A cross sectional survey with an administered questionnaire (a previously validated adaptation of the Medical Research Council (MRC) respiratory questionnaire) was performed. Symptoms were classified as work related by their periodicity. Demographic data, smoking habits, and occupational histories were recorded. Personal exposures to dust and endotoxin were measured and individual subjects ascribed an exposure value specific to occupation, site and industry. Cox's regression techniques were used to identify variables predictive of work related upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms. Information was stored using Dbase 3 and analysed with SPSS.Results
1032 Workers (93 % of the target population) were studied in nine different industries. The highest prevalences of work related lower respiratory tract symptoms (38.1 %), upper respiratory tract symptoms (45.2 %), and chronic bronchitis (15.5 %) were found among poultry handlers. White workers were significantly more likely to complain of upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms. An individual in the swine confinement industry had a symptom complex compatible with byssinosis. Increasing current personal exposures to dust or endotoxin were found to be predictive of upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms, chronic bronchitis, and byssinosis. In a univariate analysis a relation between current exposures and the organic dust toxic syndrome was found. Present smoking and previously documented respiratory tract illness were significantly predictive of work related lower respiratory tract symptoms. Women were more likely to report work related upper respiratory tract symptoms.Conclusions
People exposed to organic dusts may have a high prevalence of work related respiratory tract symptoms which are related to dust exposures and smoking habits. Action should be taken to reduce exposures to dust and endotoxin and stopping smoking should be promoted among workers exposed to organic dusts to reduce morbidity.