What is an occupational disease?
RCL Safety Centre says that “occupational diseases are conditions or disorders that result from the nature of your work.” An occupational disease is one that is caused by work environment or activities that are part of your occupation. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) states that “In general, health conditions or disorders that occur among a group of people with similar occupational exposures at a higher frequency than the rest of the population are considered to be occupational diseases.”
What are the most common occupational diseases?
This list was established based on information from the CDC, the CCOHS, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), the ILO and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.
1. Dermatitis. According to NIOSH, allergic and irritant dermatitis (also known as ‘contact dermatitis’) is the most important cause of occupational skin diseases, and account for 15 to 20 per cent of all reported occupational diseases in the U.S. Contact dermatitis is caused by a wide array of physical, biological or chemical agents.
2. Respiratory illnesses. This can include asthma, disease of the lung and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). According to OHCOW, asthma is considered to be the most common occupational lung disease in Canada. Furthermore, OHCOW states that there are over 300 chemicals in the workplace that are known to cause asthma, with the disease being most prevalent in the auto parts, foam and plastic manufacturing industries. The ILO lists work-related asthma as being caused by sensitizing agents or irritants.
3. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are prevalent in most workplaces, even in office settings. Indeed, office workers may be at risk of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. The EU-OSHA says that most work-related MSDs develop over time and can be caused by repetitive movements, awkward positions, handling loads, high work demands, lack of breaks, etc.
4. Hearing loss. NIOSH conducted a study from 2000 – 2008 among U.S. workers who had higher occupational noise exposures than the general population. They found that 18 per cent of their surveyed sample had hearing loss. NIOSH says that workers in the mining, construction and manufacturing industries need better hearing conservation strategies.
5. Cancer. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work states that cancer accounts for 24 per cent of global work-related deaths. Occupational cancers occur when workers are in contact with carcinogenic substances in their workplace. Asbestos-related diseases are now some of the most well-known incidences of occupational disease. These include cancers such as lung cancer, gastro-intestinal cancer, cancer of the larynx or pharynx and mesothelioma (a cancer which occurs in the thin layer of tissue covering most internal organs).
6. Stress and mental health disorders. Multiple sources state that mental health disorders can also be considered as occupational diseases in certain contexts. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most commonly cited. PTSD can affect workers in high pressure workplaces, such as the military or law enforcement.
7. Infectious diseases. NIOSH states that healthcare workers run the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis (TB) and even the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It also notes that TB is also a risk for workers in social services or correctional facilities as they are in constant contact with high-risk populations.