Results for a prospective morbidity study of 14,170 refinery and chemical workers from 1981 through 1988 are presented. Illness/absence data for this study were extracted from the morbidity section of the Shell Health Surveillance System which includes records of all illness/absences in excess of five days. Age adjusted annual morbidity frequency rates and annual durations of absence are presented by age, sex, job, and work status. Generally, rates and durations of absence were highest for older age groups, women, and production workers. Increased risk was associated with the presence of known disease risk factors. Overall, 48% of the employees had at least one illness/absence in excess of five days during the eight year period. Twelve per cent of the employees had four or more absences, which accounted for 54% of the total number of absences and 52% of the total work days lost. Among men, the five most common conditions accounted for 72% of all illness/absences. In descending order they were injuries (25%), respiratory illnesses (17%), musculoskeletal disorders (14%), digestive illnesses (9%), and heart disease (7%). Similar patterns were noted among women. These findings may be useful in setting priorities and directing efforts such as health education programmes and other strategies for the prevention of disease.
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