Objectives Good occupational health policy requires an overall understanding of the proportion of the working population who are exposed to hazards at work. This is difficult to estimate when nearly three-quarters of the workforce are in small and medium sized companies and so not easily surveyed or monitored. We are undertaking a series of national surveys of the workforce to estimate how many people are exposed to hazards, where those people work, and to identify areas where controls could be used more effectively.
Method A random sample of the working population were invited to participate in a telephone interview regarding carcinogens at work using a web-based application (OccIDEAS). Participants were asked about their job tasks and predefined algorithms were used to automatically assign exposures.
Results Overall, 40.3% of the working population were estimated to be exposed to at least one of the 38 carcinogens we were interested in. Farmers, heavy vehicle drivers and miners were the most likely to be exposed. The most common exposures were solar radiation, diesel engine exhust and environmental tobacco smoke. We are now undertaking similar surveys to estimate the prevalence of occupational exposure to asthmagens, noise and ototoxic chemicals. We are also examining whether migrant workers are more likely to be exposed than the Australian born population.
Conclusions This study demonstrates a practical, web-based approach to collecting population information on occupational exposure prevalence.
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