Skin diseases as work hazard

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014


STEVE Jobs was quoted as saying: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Was his death a hazard of occupation? Your opinion will be as good as mine.

In its document “National Profile on Occupational Safety and Health,” the Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC) reported that in 2006 skin diseases ranked in the top three occupational diseases in the Philippines. In practice, however, skin diseases, even the dreaded skin cancer, are not often considered as occupational disease, according to the Diepgen study (published in the British Journal of Dermatology) in 2012.

Although the second top causes of death from work-related diseases in 2003 was cancer (23.85 percent), the OSHC report did not provide enough detail to let us know how much of these came from skin cancer. Cancer was top cause of deaths in 2006.

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The Ruston study in 2012 that used the Surveillance of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease database of Great Britain 5.3 percent (5,300 per 100,000) of workers died of cancer, which included the dreaded mesothelioma and non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC). Of the registered workers with mesothelioma in 2004, for example, 91.9 percent died a year later, or 24.18 percent of total deaths by cancer. Deaths from NMSC (23 workers) resulted to a death rate of 4.5 percent, or 0.29 percent.

If we go by proportion with the Philippine death-by-cancer rate, for illustration purposes only, we could be looking at deaths 23,850 (per 100,000 workers), all from exposure to risk factors in work.

Death from mesothelioma could be around 5,767 workers per 100,000 and 58 workers per 100,000 from NMSC.

The study noted significant relationship of asbestos as risk factor to the mesothelioma cancer deaths.

The same findings confirmed the role of asbestos in these deaths in separate studies in Italy (54 percent) and the United States in 2004. NMSC, however, has been traced to these substances: mineral oils (31.5 percent), solar radiation (53.8 percent), and coal tars and pitches (16.6 percent).

While the OSHC report did not detail the disease agents present in our work environments, surveillance studies around the world, such as in Australia, United Kingdom, Finland, South Africa and Spain, pointed to certain chemical hazards as the culprits, classified in the OSHC report as dust (asbestos) and organic solvents (mineral oils; coal tars and pitches). Solar radiation is not found or classified in the report.

There is comfort though in the employ of your mind, at least. Thomas Jefferson said: “A mind always employed is always happy. This is the true secret, the grand recipe for felicity.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 06, 2014.

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