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Tackling the occupational disease problem

Hard-working Kentuckians should not have to compromise their health in order to make a living and support their families. However, many workers have found themselves to be victims of occupational and environmental disease. Luckily, there continues to be various efforts to address the issue of occupational illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a strategy that may help in accurately diagnosing and treating disease caused by work activity. Despite the fact that environmental and job-related influences play a part in approximately 25 percent of the world's diseases, the complications and sickness that manifest from workplace hazards may be very difficult to detect. This may be due to a couple of causes such as inconsistent latent periods and the inexperience of physicians. Also, occupational diseases may mimic common ailments.

For this reason, the CDC recommends taking a detailed patient exposure history as well as enlisting the help of consultants in the industrial hygiene field. Through the use of survey and consultation, a clinician may be able ascertain the cause of a sickness early, which may help in the prevention, treatment or even reversal of an occupational disease. This may be achieved through a standardized form that requests details on a patient's work and hazard exposure history. It may quickly point a medical practitioner in the direction of occupational disease, allowing for an immediate and appropriate treatment plan.

While there may continue to be a focus on reactive strategies, other organizations work toward a more proactive approach. EHS Today proposes that prevention is key, and the path to it might lie in effectively collecting and sharing data. Work-related illness evolves in conjunction with changes in society, and learning how others are dealing with those changes may be beneficial to all parties involved in workplace safety. As such, the International Labour Organization has urged for the creation and use of a centralized online source that documents the details of various cases. Arming health care workers and advocates with quality data may be able to change the fact that over 2 million deaths are caused by occupational diseases every year.

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Shumate, Flaherty, Eubanks & Baechtold

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