Workplace cluster of disease

It is important to investigate systematically workplace clusters of disease, whilst keeping a realistic expectation of what such investigations can hope to achieve.

Putative workplace clusters of disease cause concern among workforces, their families, their representative, and their management.  Diseases such as cancer cluster naturally in time and space.  However, in the past, the discovery of many of today’s carcinogens were as a result of the observations of alert occupational physicians.  Such discoveries are rare today, but they do still occur.

We have carried out investigations in both UK and overseas workforces.  They often begin by a presentation of the proposed approach to the affected workforce and/or their representatives as well as a presentation at the end of the investigation to discuss the implications of any findings with those most affected.

The approach is based on the methodology developed by the UK Health and Safety Executive

The step-by-step approach involves:

  1. Identification and characterisation of cases
  2. Determination of the other parameters of the investigation. e.g. time, location
  3. Assessment of statistical significance
  4. Assessment of occupational exposures at the workplace and experienced by the cases themselves
  5. Assessment of biological plausibility of the exposures
  6. Assessment of the epidemiological significance of the cluster
Since its inception in 1969, IOM been at the forefront of worker protection.  A key attribute in worker protection is the ability to investigate and advise on workplace clusters of disease.