Objectives To discuss how voluntary occupational health surveillance can help informing public policy in relation to health at work.
Methods and Results The Health and Occupation Research Network (THOR) collects incidence data on occupational disease and work related ill health (WRI).
Incidence data from THOR has been used to inform and direct UK policy and priorities in relation to occupational asthma and dermatitis such as in bakers and spray painters. THOR played an important part in measuring the UK’s “Revitalising Health and Safety” targets: It was the main UK data source used to report the statistically significant decrease in both work-related asthma and skin disease in the decade after 2009. The effects of interventions, such as implementation of statute, relating to chromate, latex, and glutaraldehyde were studied using incidence data and demonstrated the value of these public policy initiatives. ‘Before and after’ comparisons were made to investigate changes in sickness absence certification following the introduction of the 2010 ‘fitnote’ which assisted GPs to recommend workplace adjustments. In the first year the new category certified as ’fit’ with recommended adjustments was almost exclusively limited to that proportion of workers previously certified as ‘fit’. However after the first year there was evidence that the GPs were also making rehabilitation recommendations in those who would previously have been certified as ‘sick’.
A collaborative international consortium entitled MODERNET (Monitoring trends in Occupational Diseases and tracing new and Emerging Risks in a Network) has been established with EU funding. MODERNET is developing improvements in data quality, trends analysis and disease vigilance, intended to influence public policy at a supra-national level.
Conclusions Data from voluntary occupational health surveillance schemes are valuable in informing public policy for example by monitoring trends in WRI incidence, and in evaluating the benefits of interventions.
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