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The Journal for Employee Protection
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Higher Lung Disease Risk Among Maintenance Staff

Mortality rate higher than other workers


Cases of death from lung disease are more frequent among maintenance workers than employees or managers. This is probably due to the inhalation of chemicals, fungi and dust.

Nearly 200,000 men and women provide cleaning at home, in offices or industrial premises. But by making the world cleaner, these people endanger their own health.

Investigation of Causes of Mortality

In her study, Laura Van Den Borre, PhD student in sociology at the VUB, highlighted the fact that mortality cases due to certain diseases are more frequent among cleaning staff than among employees and managers. It took as a starting point the entire Belgian working population between the ages of 30 and 60 in 1991. It then examined the cases and causes of mortality until 2011. In total, it analyzed 202,339 deaths among men and 58,592 in women.

From this analysis, it emerges that during this period, maintenance workers experienced a mortality rate of 45% higher than employees and managers. In the case of working women, this increased risk of mortality is of the order of 16%. The main causes are lung diseases.

Chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema (which causes loss of pulmonary alveoli) are the most frequent pathologies. During the period under review, maintenance workers experienced mortality due to these conditions, which was double the number of employees. Even by filtering the effects of smoking, the differences remain significant.

Pulmonary Diseases from Cleaning Products, Combined with Dust and Mushrooms

Laura Van Den Borre did not focus on the main cause, but international studies have already proven the effects of chemical cleaning agents and biological agents such as dust and fungi on the lungs. Now there is a clear link between cleansing and mortality.

What is striking is that the effects are most pronounced among home cleaners, when one might expect it to be in industrial cleaning where more hazardous products are used. On the other hand, home care products are designed for normal use, say twice a week. But the cleaning staff at home is exposed to it several times a day.

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BeSWIC is the Belgian knowledge center on well-being at work. It was designed to gather all the information on well-being at work. BeSWIC is the abbreviation for "Belgian Safe Work Information Center".