Nurul Ainun Hamzah, Shamsul Bahri Mohd Tamrin , Noor Hassim Ismail
Background: Exposure to metal dust and fumes are leading cause of respiratory problems by increased likelihood of reversible narrowing of the airways and greater prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms among steel workers.
Material and Methods: A cross sectional study was conducted in a steel factory in Terengganu, Malaysia to assess the metal dust exposure and its relationship to respiratory symptoms among 184 workers. Metal dust concentration values (Co, Cr, and Ni) for each worker was collected using personal air sampling. Respiratory symptoms were determined using British Medical Research Council (BMRC) Questionnaire.
Results: Exposure to cobalt and chromium were 1 to 3 times higher than permissible exposure limit (PEL) while nickel was not exceeding the PEL. Cumulative of chromium was the predictor to all of the respiratory symptoms while cumulative of cobalt was the predictor to chronic cough. Smoking was the contributing factor to the presence of shortness of breath (OR=1.06, 95%CI: 1.02-1.10) while past respiratory illnesses were found to be the predicting factor to the presence of chest of tightness (OR=2.14, 95% CI: 1.28 – 3.59) and shortness of breath (OR=1.93, 95% CI: 1.37 – 10.15). Only few workers (36.4%) were found to wear their masks all the times during the working hours.
Conclusions: There is a dose-response relationship of cumulative metal dust exposure with the elevation of respiratory symptoms prevalence. Improvements of control measures are needed to reduce the metal dust exposure and workers should be encouraged to use respiratory protection devices during their working hours.