A cohort of 537 workers employed for less than one year between 1900 and 1964 in the Geneva perfumery industry was followed up from entry to the end of 1983. During the period of study, 251 workers died and 41 (8%) were lost to follow up. The standardised mortality ratio (SMR) was significantly above 100 for all causes (SMR = 120), all cancers (SMR = 127), lung cancer (SMR = 186), and violent death (SMR = 179). The highest SMR from all causes was associated with the shortest period of employment (less than two months) and it decreased significantly with longer duration. Such mortality excesses had not been recorded among the 1168 workers of the same industry employed one year or more, previously studied in similar fashion. Interviews among a random sample of 52 workers employed for less than two months seem to indicate that the prevalence of smoking, exposures to asbestos, and occupational accidents in other hazardous industries were higher for these workers than for the reference population. Furthermore, unmarried men were overrepresented among the study cohort. These findings support previous observations indicating that short term workers share atypical features related to high mortality from various causes. It is suggested that mortality in this subgroup should be analysed separately in occupational studies.
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