Objectives: To estimate the social costs of occupational asthma in the UK.
Methods: A desk-top approach using cost-of-illness methodology was employed, defining direct and indirect lifetime costs for six scenarios: a male and a female worker each exposed to isocyanates, latex and biocides (eg, glutaraldehyde) or flour. The numbers of new cases annually in each industry were estimated from Survey of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease (SWORD) data. The main outcome measure was the current value total working lifetime costs of new cases annually for each scenario.
Results: Assuming 209 new cases of occupational asthma in the six scenarios in the year 2003, the present value total lifetime costs were estimated to be 25.3-27.3 pound million (2004 prices). Grossing up for all estimated cases of occupational asthma in the UK in 2003, this came to 70-100 pound million. About 49% of these costs were borne by the individual, 48% by the state and 3% by the employer.
Conclusions: The cost to society of occupational asthma in the UK is high. Given that the number of newly diagnosed cases is likely to be underestimated by at least one-third, these costs may be as large as 95-135 pound million. Each year a new stream of lifetime costs will be added as a newly diagnosed cohort is identified. Approaches to reduce the burden of occupational asthma have a strong economic justification. However, the economic burden falls on the state and the individual, not on the employer. The incentive for employers to act is thus weak.