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(c) 2022 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Workers Who Are Non-Smokers Suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease [COPD]

Approximately 25% of adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have never smoked, and workplace exposures likely contribute to much of their disease. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] that 24% of workers who suffer from COPD never smoked. Among these persons, 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, isocyanates, 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 aged ≥18 years 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. “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.” Gelman, Jon L, Workers’ Compensation Law, Pulmonary Disease Generally,38 NJPRAC 9.6 (Thomson-Reuters 2019). 

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. 

Syamlal G, Doney B, Mazurek JM. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevalence Among Adults Who Have Never Smoked, by Industry and Occupation — United States, 2013–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:303–307. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6813a2  Published: April 5, 2019 
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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 jon@gelmans.com has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses