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Work in Brief
  1. Keith Palmer, Editor

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    The widescale use of GMS mobile phones has been a stimulus to many health investigations. One focus has been the acute effects on cognitive functioning, if any, of electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones. Evidence so far appears conflicting. To draw the threads together, Barth and coauthors have considered 19 experimental studies published during 1999–2007, including 10 with an element of blinding that were combined in meta-analysis.1 They report that short-term exposure can cause decrements of attention and working memory, as assessed by a timed test of mental arithmetic (the subtraction test) and the so-called N-back test. However, exposure did not affect performance on other verbal, numerical, vigilance and reaction tests and the effects that they did find are reported as being so small that implications for everyday human performance can be “practically ruled out”.


    Hand–wrist injuries are common in commercial fishing and arise when working with catch; handling nets and lines; and in slips and falls. Transient potentially modifiable risk factors have not been studied hitherto, but Kucera and colleagues have conducted a case-crossover study to characterise acute triggers of injury.2 Their analysis, nested within an established cohort of south-eastern US fishermen, matched hand injury cases with controls under three control selection strategies. A fifth of fishermen sustained an injury and risks were raised 2–3-fold during maintenance work and use of multiple (rather than single) types of fishing equipment. However, glove use afforded no protection and the authors call for further research to determine whether gloves of different design or thicker material would reduce injury risks.


    More than 40 different occupations have been associated with increased risks of bladder cancer but, for the most part, evidence of risk by occupation remains equivocal. To clarify, Samanic and coworkers have conducted a case–control study, set in 18 Spanish hospitals.3 Some 1200 incident cases of transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder were compared with a similar number of controls, selected from admissions to the same hospitals over the same time with other health problems. A comparison of lifetime occupational history identified statistically significant increases in risk in several male occupations, including machine operators in the printing industry (odds ratio (OR) 5.4), men in electrical/gas/sanitary services (OR 3.9 for ⩾10 years employment), in hotel work (OR 3.1), mechanics and repairers (OR 2.0) and workers in the transportation equipment industry (OR 1.6). Male farmers had lower risks and no important associations were found among women or across several occupations for which suspicions had existed a priori. The findings emphasise a need to periodically revisit risk assessments in the face of changing workplace exposures and practices.


    This month’s Journal also includes a randomised controlled trial of alternative mouse designs and forearm support to prevent upper body discomfort and musculoskeletal disease;4 a survey highlighting likely errors in Labour Force Survey methods and assessing the impact on estimated numbers with repetitive strain injury;5 and a comparison of work stress and health in primary and secondary care physicians.6