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SA health body wants to find out if your job really is making you sick

The NIOH has compiled data demonstrating which diseases various professionals are at a higher risk of contracting.
The NIOH has compiled data demonstrating which diseases various professionals are at a higher risk of contracting.
Image: 123RF / Yacobchuk

Feel like your job is killing you? The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) has launched a surveillance programme to find out.

NIOH has initiated a “national surveillance project” to determine the increase in mortality from specific diseases within occupation groups, with heart disease prevalent among people working in managerial positions.

In the absence of national surveillance data, the project identified emerging mortality trends in the workplace using data from the SA National Burden of Disease Study, as well as registration data from Stats SA and the home affairs department.

Dr Nisha Naicker, head of the NIOH epidemiology and surveillance section, said that the project required a great deal of data analysis.

“The epidemiology unit sifted through massive amounts of data to determine the ratios of mortality within occupation groups, and the underlying cause of death in 2016, based on death certificate information,” he said.

Analysis of the 2016 data showed that there were 468,573 reported deaths of people over the age of 15 with only 59,707 (12.7%) individuals having a specified occupation.

Naicker said that the project aimed to “get a clearer understanding of mortality by occupation and identify trends and emerging patterns in workplaces”.

The data ranked occupational health hazards based on “proportionate mortality ratios” (PMR). A PMR of more than 100 indicates that the proportion of deaths from a particular cause in the specified occupation is higher than the general population.

For instance, tuberculosis displayed a PMR of 121 in elementary occupations, and 113 for agricultural workers. Diabetes was prevalent among professionals with a PMR of 121.

Managers, technicians and clerks scored highly for risk of ischaemic heart disease, with scores ranging from 240-340.

An elevated risk of HIV/Aids mortality was noted in service workers and armed forces personnel (PMR of 132), elementary occupations (PMR of 132) and plant/machine operators (PMR of 120).

Elevated risk of interpersonal violence was highest among elementary workers (PMR of 153), service workers and armed forces personnel (PMR of 143), agricultural workers (PMR of 137) and plant/machine operators (PMR of 110).

“It was concluded that continuous surveillance of mortality by occupation is critical in SA. The method used here provides a clearer picture of illness by occupation, and we are optimistic that through this kind of surveillance, the NIOH can support recommendations for targeted prevention programmes and policies in future,” said Naicker.

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