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Managing Occupational Disease—The Journey Toward Prevention

The International Labor Organization estimates that globally, 2.78 million people die each year from causes attributed to work. Fatal accidents accounted for 13.7% of these deaths but surprisingly, the vast majority of these deaths, 2.4 million or 86.3%, were due to work-related diseases. Circulatory conditions, work-related cancers, and respiratory diseases were the top three diagnostic categories.

Understandably, many have asked how experts determine that a condition is work-related since occupational diseases often have a long latency period and may not be clinically or pathologically different than non-work-related diseases. While the work relatedness of some occupational diseases is well known (e.g., mesothelioma or silicosis), linking other diseases to the workplace often requires a more in-depth analysis.

From a population perspective, experts use epidemiological methods to determine the proportion of occupational disease related to a specific risk factor. By extension, with certain caveats, this attributable fraction can also be used to estimate the fraction of disease that would not occur if exposure to the risk factor was not present. These kinds of studies are instrumental in prompting further research into the mechanism of disease causation and development of effective treatment regimens.  

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Managing Occupational Disease—The Journey Toward Prevention

Deena L. Buford, Medical Director, Exxon Mobil Corporation

01 February 2019

Volume: 71 | Issue: 2

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