Occupational exposure to inhaled pollutants and risk of airflow obstruction: A large UK population-based UK Biobank cohort

Steven S. Sadhra, Nuredin Mohammed, Om P. Kurmi, David Fishwick, Sara De Matteis, Sally Hutchings, Debbie Jarvis, Jon G. Ayres, Lesley Rushton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background Although around 10% to 15% of COPD burden can be attributed to workplace exposures, little is known about the role of different airborne occupational pollutants (AOP). The main aim of the study was to assess the effect size of the relationship between various AOP, their level and duration of exposure with airflow obstruction (AFO). Methods A cross-sectional analysis was conducted in 228 614 participants from the UK Biobank study who were assigned occupational exposure using a job exposure matrix blinded to health outcome. Adjusted prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CI for the risk of AFO for ever and years of exposure to AOPs were estimated using robust Poisson model. Sensitivity analyses were conducted for never-smokers, non-asthmatic and bi-pollutant model. Results Of 228 614 participants, 77 027 (33.7%) were exposed to at least one AOP form. 35.5% of the AFO cases were exposed to vapours, gases, dusts or fumes (VGDF) and 28.3% to dusts. High exposure to vapours increased the risk of occupational AFO by 26%. Exposure to dusts (adjusted PR=1.05; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.08), biological dusts (1.05; 1.01 to 1.10) and VGDF (1.04; 1.01 to 1.07) showed a significantly increased risk of AFO, however, statistically not significant following multiple testing. There was no significant increase in risk of AFO by duration (years) of exposure in current job. The results were null when restricted to never-smokers and when a bi-pollutant model was used. However, when data was analysed based on the level of exposure (low, medium and high) compared with no exposure, directionally there was increase in risk for those with high exposure to vapours, gases, fumes, mists and VGDF but statistically significant only for vapours. Conclusion High exposure (in current job) to airborne occupational pollutants was suggestive of higher risk of AFO. Future studies should investigate the relationship between lifetime occupational exposures and COPD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-475
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Early online date15 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


This research was supported by contract OH1511 from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)


  • COPD epidemiology
  • Occupational lung disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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