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Occupational medicine, public health and disasters: a shared agenda?
  1. Oliver Morgan1,
  2. Virginia Murray2,
  3. David Snashall3
  1. 1
    Health Protection Agency, East of England Regional Epidemiology Unit, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2
    Head Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division, Health Protection Agency, London, UK
  3. 3
    Kings College London Medical School, London, UK
  1. Dr Oliver Morgan, Health Protection Agency, Regional Epidemiology Unit London, 7th Floor, Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP, UK; omorgan{at}

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Occupational medicine and public health are distinct but methodologically related disciplines. One is concerned with the health of individuals in the workplace, whereas the other is focused on population health. However, synergies can exist between them, providing important opportunities to protect and promote health in the context of disasters.


Front-line responders deployed during disasters or emergencies typically include fire, police and ambulance services, although many other agencies may be involved. While these workers may be at risk of exposures deleterious to physical or mental health, members of the public may also be exposed, sometimes resulting in serious negative health consequences.1 2

Protecting the health of responders and the general population during emergencies should therefore be seen as a shared objective for occupational and public health agencies. Following the World Trade Center disaster, respiratory symptoms among fire fighters alerted health officials to possible health problems among New York City residents.3 Further investigation revealed that residents who had not been as exposed as fire fighters had a higher frequency of cough, wheeze and shortness of breath.4 In addition, there was a twofold increase in the number of babies born small for gestational age.4 …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.