We carry out in-house, commissioned and collaborative research to provide useful information for designing strategies to prevent occupational diseases.
Work-related diseases: a definition
Work-related diseases are acute, recurring or chronic health problems caused or aggravated by work conditions or practices. They impose heavy suffering and cost on Australian workers and the economy yet are largely invisible because of the challenges involved in obtaining accurate and useful information on them. Terms like ‘disease’, illness’ and ‘disorder’ are often used interchangeably, as are ‘occupational’ and ‘work-related’.
Preventing or reducing work-related disease disorders is a focus of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022, which has identified six priority work-related disorders:
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Mental disorders
- Cancers (including skin cancer)
- Contact dermatitis
- Noise-induced hearing loss.
Because many occupational diseases have long latency periods (time between exposure and onset or diagnosis of disease) and many potential causes or risk factors, including lifestyle and non-occupational factors, it is usually very hard to quantify the impact of work factors on the occurrence of disease. This is a problem worldwide.
SWA has taken the approach of trying to understand current workplace exposures to disease-causing hazards as a way of estimating the work contribution to the burden of disease and to identify groups of workers who may be currently at risk of developing a work-related disease later in life. This approach allows SWA to modify or develop policy based on current exposures rather than current disease incidence, which may reflect the work health and safety practices of the past.