Prevention of work-related airway allergies; summary of the advice from the Health Council of the Netherlands
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The Health Council of the Netherlands published a report in which the best procedure and method for recommending health-based occupational exposure limits (OELs) for inhaled allergens were identified by evaluating the scientific state of the art. Many respiratory disorders in the workplace arise from inhalation of substances which can cause allergy. To protect workers against respiratory allergy, various preventive measures are taken, one of them being reduction of exposure by setting legally binding standards. These are based on health-based OELs that specify a level of exposure to an airborne substance, a threshold level, below which it may reasonably be expected that there is no risk of adverse health effects. The Council is of the opinion that an OEL should prevent against allergic sensitization, as sensitization plays a crucial biological role and is a prerequisite for the development of allergy. Furthermore, the Council considers it most likely that the exposure level below which no allergic sensitization develops for most allergens is so low, that OELs are difficult to set with the current knowledge and technical feasibilities. An alternative approach is to accept exposure, which carries a small predefined risk in developing allergic sensitization. In addition, it is worth considering periodic screening of exposed workers on allergic sensitization, because timely intervention can prevent worse. The feasibility of periodic screening and what else is needed to comply with the most important criteria, should however be judged case-by-case.