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Psychological, musculoskeletal, and respiratory problems and sickness absence before and after involvement in a disaster: a longitudinal study among rescue workers
  1. A J E Dirkzwager1,
  2. C J Yzermans1,
  3. F J M Kessels2
  1. 1Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), Utrecht, Netherlands
  2. 2Arbo Unie East Netherlands, Enschede, Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A J E Dirkzwager
 Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), PO Box 1568, 3500 BN Utrecht, Netherlands;


Background: On 13 May 2000 a firework depot situated in a residential area in the Netherlands exploded. Many rescue workers were involved in the aftermath of this explosion.

Aims: To examine the longitudinal course of psychological, musculoskeletal, and respiratory problems and sickness absence among rescue workers involved.

Methods: The study population was composed of 1036 rescue workers. Data on health and sickness absence both before and after the disaster were collected from the electronic database of the rescue workers’ occupational physicians. Health problems were coded according to an adapted version of the ICD-10.

Results: After the disaster a long term increase was found in psychological, musculoskeletal, and respiratory problems. Compared to six months before the disaster, the average length of sickness absence in the first half year after the disaster increased from 6.6 to 11.6 days, and decreased slowly in the following six month periods.

Conclusions: Rescue workers involved in a disaster may experience subsequent impairment in occupational functioning.

  • disaster
  • rescue worker
  • health status
  • sickness absence

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  • This study was funded by a grant obtained from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports in the Netherlands.