People with lung conditions warn they will risk losing their jobs rather then return to unsafe workplaces

• 15% due to return to their workplace would rather be fired than go back
• One third have lost income – with 14% losing between £251-£500 per week

Workers with lung conditions are so worried about returning to their workplace that some will risk being fired if forced to go back, the UK’s leading respiratory charities have warned.

A new survey by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation has found that 83% of workers with a lung condition, who have not been going to their workplace, are anxious about their return in the next few months.

One in seven (15%) workers with a lung condition have said they will refuse to return to their workplace, even if this means they lose their job.

The survey also found:

  • 32% do not believe their workplace is or will be “Covid secure”
  • 69% were concerned about going back to work but will have to do so anyway
  • 11% were unable to say if they could commute to work safely and 8% said they could not

Many of these workers have already faced financial hardship with more than a third (37%) of workers reporting a drop to their income during lockdown. For some this has had a drastic effect with 14% saying their income had dropped by between £251 and £500 per week.

As more people are encouraged back to their workplaces, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation are calling for the clinically extremely vulnerable group, who have been shielding, to receive further support such as the option to continue on the government furlough scheme beyond its current end date.

The charities are urging employers to be understanding with their employees who have a lung condition and engage with their individual needs. This could include an ongoing option to work at home or redeployment to a lower risk role.

Anonymous written comments submitted to the survey signalled that workers with lung conditions are being forced to choose between economic stability and their health.

One man who has been shielding with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) said he didn’t think his workplace was Covid-secure.

“I feel like not going back to work as my health is priority, but don't know if I can risk losing my job,” he wrote.

A nurse who has also been shielding said: “Really don’t feel safe going back to work. … my ward has Covid patients on.”

Another person shielding say he was going to take retirement rather than return to work. “Can’t take it anymore,” he wrote.

Sarah MacFadyen, Head of Policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “It cannot be right that people are having to make the choice between their health and their wealth.

“Employers must engage constructively with their workers so that no one with a lung condition feels forced to return to a workplace which is not Covid-secure and puts them at increased risk of catching the virus.

“We also really need to see people who have been shielding receive extra support, such as the option to continue on the furlough scheme beyond its planned end date. This group of people have already made huge sacrifices and need to be to be supported to make their own personal decision about whether to return to the workplace.”

Notes to Editor

  1. Around 12 million people in the UK are affected by lung disease, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchiectasis
  2. Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation surveyed 8495 people with lung conditions from 10 July to 15 July