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Occupations associated with COPD risk in the large population-based UK Biobank cohort study


Objectives Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Exposure to occupational hazards is an important preventable risk factor but the contribution of specific occupations to COPD risk in a general population is uncertain. Our aim was to investigate the association of COPD with occupation in the UK population.

Methods In 2006–2010, the UK Biobank cohort recruited 502 649 adults aged 40–69 years. COPD cases were identified by prebronchodilator forced expiratory volume in 1 s/forced vital capacity<lower limit of normal according to American Thoracic Society (ATS)/ European Respiratory Society (ERS) guidelines. Current occupations were coded using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2000. Prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CIs of COPD for each SOC-coded job were estimated using a robust Poisson model adjusted for sex, age, recruitment centre and lifetime tobacco smoking. Analyses restricted to never-smokers and non-asthmatics were also performed.

Results Of the 353 occupations reported by 228 614 current working participants, several showed significantly increased COPD risk. Those at highest COPD risk were seafarers (PR=2.64; 95% CI 1.59 to 4.38), coal mine operatives (PR=2.30; 95% CI 1.00 to 5.31), cleaners (industrial: PR=1.96; 95% CI 1.16 to 3.31 and domestic: PR=1.43; 95% CI 1.28 to 1.59), roofers/tilers (PR=1.86; 95% CI 1.29 to 2.67), packers/bottlers/canners/fillers (PR=1.60; 95% CI 1.15 to 2.22), horticultural trades (PR=1.55; 95% CI 0.97 to 2.50), food/drink/tobacco process operatives (PR=1.46; 95% CI 1.11 to 1.93), floorers/wall tilers (PR=1.41; 95% CI 1.00 to 2.00), chemical/related process operatives (PR=1.39; 95% CI 0.98 to 1.97), postal workers/couriers (PR=1.35; 95% CI 1.15 to 1.59), labourers in building/woodworking trades (PR=1.32; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.68), school mid-day assistants (PR=1.32; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.74) and kitchen/catering assistants (PR=1.30; 95% CI 1.10 to 1.53). Associations were similar in analyses restricted to never-smokers and non-asthmatics.

Conclusions Selected occupations are associated with increased COPD risk in a large cross-sectional population-based UK study. Further analyses should confirm the extent to which these associations reflect exposures still of concern and where strengthened preventive action may be needed.

  • COPD
  • Occupations

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