ABC of Work Related Disorders: HAZARDS OF WORKBMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7050.161 (Published 20 July 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:161
- David Snashall
Most readers of this series will consider themselves lucky to have an interesting job. However tedious others may find it, work defines a person—which is one reason why most people who lack the opportunity to work feel disenfranchised. As well as determining our standard of living, work takes up about a third of our waking time, widens our social network, constrains where we can live, and conditions our personalities. “Good” work is life enhancing, but bad working conditions damage your health.
Occupational disorders in general practice
General practitioners are likely to see as much work induced illness as doctors who work in occupational medicine, who spend most of their time assessing fitness for work on preventive programmes. Such illnesses do not necessarily present at work, and, as only a minority of workers have access to an occupational health department, they usually first consult their general practitioner.
These days few doctors see classic occupational diseases such as pneumoconiosis, heavy metal poisoning, or the various forms of occupational cancer. However, several conditions commonly seen in general practice may be occupational in origin—such as back pain, dermatitis, deafness, and asthma. Many of the injuries sustained at work will also be seen and dealt with in general practice or in accident and emergency departments.
Reporting occupational illnesses
Occupational diseases are supposed to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive by employers (usually advised by doctors) under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), but this cannot be relied on—if these official statistics were the only source of information, occupational illness would seem to be very rare.
Surveys in Finland, where reporting is assiduous, have shown rates of occupational disease to be underestimated 3-5 times
When the 1990 Labour Force Survey asked workers themselves it found that 2.2 million people had had an …