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Assessing work-related respiratory problems among Massachusetts elementary school staff: results of a pilot survey.

Davis-L; Hunt-PR; Pechter-E; Baldwin-M
Boston, MA: Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2007 Aug; :1-23
In Massachusetts, sentinel cases of work-related asthma among school personnel have been identified and the presence of respiratory hazards in schools has been documented. However, there has not been a standard survey or reporting tool used to assess the prevalence of work-related asthma among school employees in the Commonwealth. To learn the best way to survey school employees regarding their respiratory health and inform future research, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Healthy Schools Network, developed and piloted a short questionnaire to gather information on the prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms in school personnel. This pilot project demonstrated that anonymous, self-reported information on asthma and respiratory symptoms in school staff and observed environmental conditions in schools can be collected using a brief self-administered questionnaire. Self-administered surveys were completed by 359 staff in a convenience sample of 13 public elementary schools (response rate 44%). Survey findings corroborated the occurrence of respiratory problems among school staff. The design of the pilot project precluded generalizing findings to estimate the prevalence of respiratory problems among all elementary school personnel in Massachusetts. The proportion of staff reporting current asthma (10%) was no different than the proportion of all adults (9.7%) and somewhat less than the proportion of all females (12.2%) reporting current asthma in the Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). However, the proportion of school staff reporting that their asthma was related to work (25%) was greater than expected from the 2001-2002 Massachusetts BRFSS (8.8% all; 9.0% females). An additional 21% of respondents reported respiratory symptoms associated with work. In response to an open-ended question, staff expressed concern about poor indoor air quality, mold and dust. The findings of this pilot project, while limited, taken together with sentinel surveillance data on work-related asthma and other published reports, suggest that further research on respiratory health among school personnel and its association with environmental conditions in schools is both feasible and warranted.
Bronchial-asthma; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Respiratory-system-disorders; Lung-disorders; Lung-disease; Epidemiology; Statistical-analysis; Risk-factors; Risk-analysis; Epidemiology; Teaching; Education; Questionnaires; Surveillance-programs
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Health Information, Statistics, Research and Evaluation, Occupational Health Surveillance Program, 250 Washington Street, 6th Floor Boston, Massachusetts 02108
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Boston, MA: Massachusetts Department of Public Health
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Massachusetts State Department of Public Health