Occupational health reports show value of reporting
28 November 2006
The Department of Labour is urging family doctors to improve their reporting of work-related diseases or injuries, and to encourage their patients to do likewise.
The Department today released two reports into occupationally-induced illness: Report on the Notifiable Occupational Disease System (NODS) 2000-05 and Asbestos Exposure in New Zealand 1992-2005. The reports detail the diseases and conditions linked to workplace exposures that have been registered with the Department.
Chief advisor for occupational health Geraint Emrys said while notifications to the NODS and asbestos registers were voluntary, the value of reporting was high.
“Notifying the Department of a health problem that may have been caused by work protects not only an individual’s health, but also that of their workmates who may be being harmed by the same workplace exposure.”
Dr Emrys believed few GPs informed their patients about the NODS reporting system, and even fewer people knew to ask their doctor about it. By registering their condition with the Department, people gave consent for an investigation to be conducted.
“It’s as if these medical conditions are so common, people have stopped associating them with work activity and the requirement under the Health and Safety in Employment Act to protect employees from work that is hazardous to their health.”
Work activity can affect peoples’ health in many ways. Breathing in chemicals or metal fumes can cause asthma, solvents or glues can affect the nervous system or cause dermatitis, while repeated movements or vibration can cause OOS.
Meanwhile, the asbestos report showed that the number of people registering an asbestos-related condition was continuing to rise, but that the occupation of sufferers was changing.
More than 17,000 people had advised the Department since 1992 they may have been exposed to asbestos. Almost 1000 of those cases had been referred to the national asbestos medical panel for assessment.
Dr Emrys said the medical panel noted that lung cancer notifications were relatively small compared with other asbestos-related medical conditions.
“This suggests that there is an under-reporting of lung cancers associated with asbestos because GPs are automatically linking a person’s smoking habits with the cancer, and excluding any asbestos-related history.
“That’s of great concern to us, as the occupation factor can be important in lung cancers and that is basically being ignored in most cases.”
Carpenters, plumbers and electricians were collectively responsible for almost 66 percent of the asbestos cases reported to the Department in the past 13 years, he said. Previously manufacturing workers were the group most at risk.
“At one time, people were working directly with asbestos products, and we’re seeing the results of those exposures now with the growing number of reported mesothelioma cases.”
Mesothelioma is an aggressive fatal disease where asbestos is the only known cause. The trend of increased reporting of mesothelioma reflected exposures in the 1960s and 1970s, and was likely to continue for some years to come, he said.
“Now, we have a whole different range of workers who are being exposed to asbestos in situ by ripping up lino, sanding floors, demolishing buildings etc.
“In most cases these will be self-employed people or part of a small business and there might not necessarily be anyone else looking out for their health.”
The purpose of the asbestos register is to maintain a record of the number of people potentially exposed to asbestos and the type of exposure for the purposes of future research.
The register is not directly linked to ACC, however anyone wishing to make a claim for asbestos related disease may refer to the register in order to provide evidence that an exposure occurred.
Dr Emrys said the Department was committed to monitoring and responding to occupational health notifications as part of the Workplace Health and Safety Strategy to 2015. The first annual report for the strategy was released today and is available at www.whss.govt.nz.
The strategy aims to reduce the work toll of workplace injury and disease, increase health and safety awareness, and help organisations coordinate and prioritise their actions.
Please note that health and safety services formerly referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.