Objectives To monitor the impact of health and safety provisions and inform future preventive strategies, we investigated trends in mortality from established occupational hazards in England and Wales.
Methods We analysed data from death certificates on underlying cause of death and last full-time occupation for 3 688 916 deaths among men aged 20–74 years in England and Wales during 1979–2010 (excluding 1981 when records were incomplete). Proportional mortality ratios (PMRs), standardised for age and social class, were calculated for occupations at risk of specified hazards. Observed and expected numbers of deaths for each hazard were summed across occupations, and the differences summarised as average annual excesses.
Results Excess mortality declined substantially for most hazards. For example, the annual excess of deaths from chronic bronchitis and emphysema fell from 170.7 during 1979–1990 to 36.0 in 2001–2010, and that for deaths from injury and poisoning from 237.0 to 87.5. In many cases, the improvements were associated with falling PMRs (suggesting safer working practices), but they also reflected reductions in the numbers of men employed in more hazardous jobs, and declining mortality from some diseases across the whole population. Notable exceptions to the general improvement were diseases caused by asbestos, especially in some construction trades and sinonasal cancer in woodworkers.
Conclusions The highest priority for future prevention of work-related fatalities is the minority of occupational disorders for which excess mortality remains static or is increasing, in particular asbestos-related disease among certain occupations in the construction industry and sinonasal cancer in woodworkers.
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