- Why should I assess occupation in my epidemiological study?
OccIDEAS is a web-based application which is used to assess occupational exposure in epidemiological studies. It is used to determine whether workers are exposed to various chemical and physical hazards (agents) based on their answers to questions about their work tasks. For your study, you simply need to specify what agents you are interested in (or we can help you decide). We provide you with your own customized version of OccIDEAS which you use to interview subjects. The end product is a dataset with variables indicating the amount of agent exposure for each job for each subject.
Why should I assess occupation in my epidemiological study?
Work takes up a quarter of our lives. There are many exposures at work which can affect health. Most people think of occupational hazards as being confined to heavy and dirty industries such as mining, steel manufacturing, and construction. However the range of occupational agents includes more commonly experienced agents such as pesticides, sun exposure, diesel exhaust and noise. In addition, factors such as sedentary work, night work, and stress at work are increasingly being recognized as affecting long term health.
The workplace is an ideal place in which to intervene to prevent disease. Compared to changing individuals’ behaviour, reducing occupational exposure via workplace changes is relatively easy. One of the attractive aspects of research into work and health is that the stakeholders for the research are easily identifiable. They include government bodies, trade unions, employer representatives, and occupational health professionals such as occupational physicians, occupational hygienists, safety professionals and ergonomists. Another useful factor for researchers is that a regulatory framework for prevention and control already exists. In addition OHS professionals manage hazards using the “Hierarchy of Control” framework (viz elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment) . These two approaches have been used successfully for many years to control the traditional chemical and physical hazards.
Yet despite the ubiquity of exposure and the availability of preventive measures, many epidemiological studies do not attempt to assess occupational exposures. A Medline search of the terms (“case-control” or “cohort”) and “cancer” in the last 5 years disclosed 19,072 papers, of which only 131 included the word “occupation”. This suggests that most epidemiological studies make little attempt to measure occupational exposure to chemical and physical agents despite the known presence of these health hazards in the workplace.
One barrier to more widespread inclusion of occupational assessment has been the perception that assessing occupational exposure is complex and specialized (see next section). That’s where OccIDEAS comes in. We’ve used the extensive knowledge of a team of highly trained occupational hygienists and epidemiologists to create a user-friendly on-line system which manages the whole process for your study. You just need to tell us what agents you are interested in (or we can help you choose) and we will help you install and use a customized version of OccIDEAS. At the completion of your study you can download a file of variables giving you expert assessments of the probability, level and frequency of exposure to each agent for each job. Whatever your study design, you can ensure that you don’t miss identifying important risk factors which occur at work.