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Respiratory Distress/Breathing Problem

Individuals with respiratory distress or breathing problems usually have an underlying condition such as allergies, asthma, a heart condition, COPD, bronchitis, pneumonia, or emphysema. The condition may be acute or chronic, and it could be triggered by allergens or environmental factors. Accommodation ideas vary depending on the situation and the individual

Accommodation Ideas


  • Accessible facility (Ramps, parking etc.)
  • Reduce/eliminate lifting, walking, etc.
  • Flexibility to sit or stand (Adjustable workstation)
  • Rest area with cot
  • Later start time
  • Frequent rest breaks
  • Shorten work day and extend work week
  • Job sharing

Avoiding Environmental Triggers:

Some respiratory impairments are aggravated by environmental triggers. It may be helpful to:

  • Maintain a clean and healthy work environment
  • Provide air purification
  • Condition, heat, dehumidify, or add moisture to the air as appropriate
  • Provide additional rest breaks for the individual to get fresh air or take medication
  • Create a smoke and fragrance-free work environment
  • Consider an alternative work arrangement such as work from home
  • Allow for alternative work arrangements when construction is taking place
  • Use alternative pest management practices
  • Implement a flexible leave policy
  • Allow for alternative means of communication such as telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, fax, or memos

Accessibility Accommodations:

An individual who experiences respiratory limitations may have difficulty performing activities that require gross motor movement, such as walking long distances, or performing activities that require excessive physical activity. It may be necessary to address access concerns for an individual who has difficulty approaching the work facility, moving around the facility, getting to work, or traveling as an essential job function.

  • Modify the work-site to make it accessible
  • Provide an accessible parking space with an unobstructed and easily traveled path into the workplace
  • Provide an entrance free of steps with doors that open automatically or that have a maximum opening force of five pounds
  • Provide an accessible route of travel to and from work areas used by the individual throughout the work environment
  • Consider providing a scooter or motorized cart for the employee to use for long distances if the employee does not already use a mobility aid
  • Move the individual’s workstation closer to equipment, materials, and rooms the individual uses frequently
  • Modify the workstation to accommodate a wheelchair, scooter, or the use of oxygen therapy equipment
  • Arrange the workstation so materials and equipment are within reach range
  • Provide restrooms that are easily accessed from the individual's workstation
  • Review emergency evacuation procedures

Modify Policies:

Due to the unpredictable nature of the onset of respiratory limitations, an individual may have difficulty maintaining regular attendance or a regular schedule. It may be necessary to:

  • Modify the location where work is performed
  • Modify the attendance policy
  • Provide leave as an accommodation
  • Provide a modified or part-time work schedule
  • Provide breaks

Maintain Air Quality:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides suggestions for improving indoor air quality in its article, An Office Building Occupant's Guide to Indoor Air Quality found at Employers should keep indoor air quality concerns in mind for employees with and without respiratory impairments. Good IAQ can improve worker productivity for everyone. To maintain air quality, it may be necessary to:

  • Provide an office or workspace that has working windows
  • Maintain the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system
  • Test indoor air quality
  • Use air purification systems throughout the building or in personal workstations
  • Reduce workplace pollutants
  • Provide a mask
  • Adjust indoor temperature to meet the individual’s needs
  • Institute a fragrance-free workplace
  • Provide pre-notification of construction and cleaning in the workplace
  • Use non-toxic building materials, furnishings, supplies, and flooring
  • Use non-toxic solvents, primers, stains, paints, etc.


Indoor air cleaning systems may help to reduce levels of  allergens and pollutants in indoor air to create a cleaner, healthier work and home environment. There are a number of different types of air cleaners and filtration systems; HEPA, ULPA, carbon filter, electrostatic, electret, negative-ionizing, UV, and ozone generators. It's important to know the air cleaning needs for the situation when selecting an appropriate system. A word of caution is needed when choosing an air purifier. These are less effective in large areas and need to be designed for specific irritants. For example, certain air purifiers will not work for fragrances but will work for smoke. It's important to work with a vendor to make certain of what can be effective for the situation.

Vendors and Products