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Challenges for occupational epidemiology in the 21st century: observations and opportunities
  1. David H Wegman
  1. Correspondence to David H Wegman, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 1 University Avenue Lowell, MA 01854, USA; david_wegman{at}

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The 2014 International Epidemiology in Occupational Health (EPICOH) meeting in Chicago, USA, focused on the theme: ‘Challenges for Occupational Epidemiology in the 21st Century’. These are exciting times and with them come no end to challenges faced by occupational epidemiology. And participants eagerly engaged in vigorous discussion on a number of current concerns with both wisdom and wit. Ultimately each individual must decide what challenges are most important and how best to address those selected for first order attention. Nonetheless, some overview of challenges could prove worthwhile and so six general areas are provided as a focus for consideration.

  • Concentrating on important problems

  • Acting on what we find

  • Advancing occupational disease and injury surveillance

  • Relying on worker self-reports

  • Looking at data

  • Addressing health disparities

Concentrating on the important problems

We always run the risk of studying what we know how to study rather than investigating important problems. We must try our best to tackle broad issues and not restrict ourselves to narrow expressions or concerns. To paraphrase Walter Holland1: Overall the number of conditions and environments studied by occupational epidemiologists needs to be expanded and we must not hesitate to press for resources to investigate and control conditions of little concern to political or commercial interests, but which are of importance to our workers and our societies. Funding for our studies is increasingly difficult but the more important the problem the more likely we can gain the attention of potential funders.

It is likely that each of us has a somewhat different view of what are the important problems. One that deserves priority attention is the impact of climate change on the global workforce. There is a remarkably diverse mix of occupational sectors that will bear the consequences of climate change.2 The numbers of workers potentially affected certainly is in the millions, …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.