Introduction Several recent occupational burden estimation studies have identifyed major risk factors contributing to important morbidity burdens. This paper discusses their impact.
Methods European studies include (1) the British occupational cancer burden study and (2) an EU socio-economic health impact assessment of introducing binding occupational exposure limits (OEL) for 25 workplace carcinogens. The global burden of occupational disease project (3) includes estimation for carcinogens, asthmagens, particulate matter, noise, and risk factors for low back pain and injury.
Results The British study (1) has informed the Health and Safety Executive’s long latency programme and their guidance and practical interventions for risk reduction. The results have facilitated estimation of the financial impact of these cancers; the majority of the cost is borne by workers. It has also contributed to the successful Institution for Occupational Safety and Health ‘No time to lose’ campaigns to help industry to deliver effective workplace cancer prevention programmes.
The EU study (2) illustrates the use of cost/benefit analyses in OEL decision making processes. ‘Efficient’ cost/benefit ratios and ‘disproportionate’ compliance costs to small/medium sized enterprises are weighed against health-based predictions.
The global burden study (3) highlights inequalities in work-related disease burden between countries.
Discussion Occupational burden studies increase awareness of occupational disease generally and for particular diseases and galvanise different stakeholders to work together on prevention. They highlight potential inequalities to different sectors of society. However, they can be ‘burdensome’ regarding cost and effort and debate is needed on timing of and appropriate methods for future updates.
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