Background Isocyanates belong to the most frequently reported causative agents of occupational asthma in the EU. However, it is difficult to assess the actual risk for workers, because the understanding of the disease mechanism is incomplete and reliable exposure-response relationships are not available. An EU-wide recording system for occupational diseases is not in place.
Aim To record isocyanate-related cases from various EU member states as a basis for risk assessment in the recent REACh regulation process of isocyanates.
Methods In 2015, an EU-wide data request was conducted at institutions known to hold data on occupational diseases. A standardised questionnaire was used referring to agent, occupation, industry, exposure duration, diagnoses, case status. The mean number of recorded cases per year (2000–2014) and disease (airways/skin) was calculated. To estimate the actual number of cases underreporting was taken into account and cases were extrapolated to the EU-28 working population.
Results Of 28 member states, 13 provided usable data, which varied widely in terms of extent and details. The number of reporting years ranged from four to fifteen. In total, 2312 cases were recorded over the 15-year period. The mean number of cases per year for this group of countries was about 200. Depending on the assumption for the scale of underreporting, the number of occupational disease cases due to isocyanates in the EU-28 was estimated to lie between five hundred and a few thousand per year.
Conclusion For the first time isocyanate-related occupational diseases in the EU were estimated based on recorded cases of the member states. This was hampered by uncertainties and differences concerning the recording systems and the underreporting. The investigation should be pursued, because such numbers are urgently needed for risk assessment and evaluation of interventions, in particular in the framework of the REACh regulation.
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