Background The French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) monitors the health status of the population according to all health determinants, including occupational risks.
Since several years, we noted an increased number of unusual workplace health events notified to InVS but also to other stakeholders (occupational medicine consultations, Labour Ministry, etc.).
A network of occupational risk experts at local level was implemented by InVS with the aim to organise the evaluation and the investigation of unusual workplace health events with a prompt and consensual response.
Methods The network is composed of a Labour medical inspector, an occupational physician of the hospital consultation, and two trained epidemiologists of InVS.
The regional office of InVS coordinates the network and informs the experts when an unusual occupational health event is notified to the local health emergency platform.
A prompt telephone meeting based on first information about the event allows the experts to assess the signal, and to come to a consensual decision about its validation, and further investigations.
Results The first network was implemented in 2008 in the region of Aquitaine (South West France). Since, eight other French regions are involved.
Several signals have been analysed, mostly cancers clusters and sick building syndromes. The networks allowed to validate unusual events and to highlight relation with occupational environment. In some cases, the networks proposed some recommendations on prevention and control measures.
With several examples, the authors show how this network works, its added value and the limitations of epidemiological workplace investigations.
Conclusion The result of the experimentation of this network was positive. Demonstrated added value of this network was a rational response leading to better reactivity, accuracy and efficiency when treating the signal, and potential detection of emergent problems.
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