OBJECTIVES: Injury is the leading cause of death in the male working population of Brazil. An important fraction of these deaths are work related. Very few cohort studies of steel workers, and none from developing countries, have reported on mortality from injuries. This paper analyses mortality from work and non-work related injuries among Brazilian steel workers. METHODS: Deaths during employment from 1 January 1977 to 30 November 1992 were analysed in a cohort of 21,816 male steel workers. Mortality rates specific for age and calendar year among the workers were compared with those of the male population of the state where the plant is located. Work related injuries were analysed by comparing the mortality rates for different subgroups of the cohort. RESULTS: The number of deaths (391) was less than half that expected based on death rates of the general population. Over 60% (242) of deaths were due to injuries. Mortality from most causes was substantially below that in the general population, but that from unintentional injury, was 50% above that of the general population. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) were highest for the youngest and the oldest employees and for labourers and clerical workers. Mortality from motor vehicle injury was twice that expected from population rates (SMR = 209, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 176-244). There was a 67% fall in the age adjusted mortality from occupational injuries in the study period. CONCLUSION: The healthy worker effect in this cohort was greater than that commonly found in studies of occupational groups in developed countries, probably because of a greater socioeconomic gap between employed and unemployed populations in Brazil, and unequal distribution of health care resources. Mortality was especially high for motor vehicle injuries. The fall in mortality from occupational injuries during the study period was probably due to improvement in safety standards, increased automation, and better medical care. There is a need to investigate risk factors for unintentional injuries among steel workers, especially those due to motor vehicle injuries. Prevention of occupational and nonoccupational injuries should be a main priority in Brazil.
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