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Occupational Epidemiology

Occupational epidemiology involves the application of epidemiologic methods to populations of workers. Occupational epidemiologic studies may involve looking at workers exposed to a variety of chemical, biological or physical (e.g., noise, heat, radiation) agents to determine if the exposures result in the risk of adverse health outcomes. Alternatively, epidemiologic studies may involve the evaluation of workers with a common adverse health outcome to determine if an agent or set of agents may explain their disease.

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for occupational epidemiology. However, a variety of hazards are addressed in specific standards for OSHA access to employee medical records, recordkeeping, general industry, shipyard employment, and the construction industry.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards, Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices) and directives (instructions for compliance officers) related to occupational epidemiology.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

Recording and reporting occupational injuries and illness (29 CFR 1904). Prescribes that employers covered under this act maintain records of job-related injuries and illnesses to allow for developing information regarding the causes and prevention of occupational accidents and illnesses, and for maintaining a program of collection, compilation, and analysis of occupational safety and health statistics. [related topic page]

Rules Concerning OSHA Access to Employee Medical Records (29 CFR 1913)

  • 1913.10, Rules of agency practice and procedure concerning OSHA access to employee medical records. Allows OSHA access to employee medical records that may be needed for epidemiological studies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Federal Registers

Directives

  • OSHA Support of NIOSH "FACE" Program. CPL 02-00-134 [CPL 2.96], (2004, January 26). Describes NIOSH FACE research study, which focuses on case identification and epidemiologic investigation of fatal occupational injuries as a result of falls, electrocutions, and confined spaces. Provides guidelines for the cooperation of OSHA with the NIOSH FACE Program.

  • Search all available directives.

Hazard Recognition

Epidemiology has been defined as the study of the distribution and determinants of health related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study, to the prevention and control of health problems (Last, 1988). Thus, epidemiologists are concerned not only with studying health, disease and death but also with devising means to prevent illness and improve health.

  • Beaglehole, R., R. Bonita, and T. Kjellstrom. Basic Epidemiology. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1993.

  • Last, J.M. A Dictionary of Epidemiology, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

  • Levy, Barry S., et al. Occupational Health: Recognizing and Preventing Work-Related Disease, 5th ed. Beverly Farms, MA: Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2006.

  • Monson, R. R. Occupational Epidemiology. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1990.

  • Hernberg, S. Introduction to Occupational Epidemiology. Chelsea, MI: Lewis Publishing, 1992.

  • Case Studies in Occupational Epidemiology. Steenland, K., ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Environmental epidemiology involves the use of epidemiologic tools to study communities that may be exposed to pollution, hazardous waste, radiation through air, water or food contamination.

  • Steenland, K., and D. Savitz. Topics in Environmental Epidemiology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

  • Kopfler, F.C., and G.F. Craun. Environmental Epidemiology. Chelsea, MI: Lewis Publishers, 1986.

  • Goldsmith, J.R. Environmental Epidemiology. Boca Raton, LA: CRC Press, 1986.

  • Leaverton, P.E. Environmental Epidemiology. New York: Praeger, 1982.

Related Disciplines

  • Biostatistics

  • Vital Statistics
  • Toxicology
    • How NTP Studies are Used to Protect Human Health. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Toxicology Program (NTP).
    • Toxicological Profiles. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Provides toxicological information in an A-Z index including a Public Health Statement and ToxFAQs, a short information sheet on each hazardous substance.
    • NLM Toxicology Tutorials. National Library of Medicine, Environmental Health and Toxicology. Presents a set of 3 tutorials, covering basic principles of toxicology.
      • TOXNET. Includes databases on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, and related areas.
  • Survey Design

Surveillance

Disease surveillance is the systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health data in order to detect, control, and prevent health problems. Epidemiologic surveillance is the macroscopic surveillance perspective, carried out primarily by public health agencies on a statewide or nationwide basis. These efforts seek to identify and quantify illness, injury or excessive exposure, and monitor trends in their occurrence across different industry types, over time, and between geographic areas. Medical surveillance, by contradistinction, focuses its surveillance components on the hazards and potential hazards of a particular workplace, company or group of workers.

  • Halperin, W., E.L. Baker, and R. Monson. Public Health Surveillance. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992.

  • Ordin, DL. "Surveillance, Monitoring, and Screening in Occupational Health." Public Health and Preventive Medicine, 13th ed. Last, J.M. and R.B. Wallace, eds. Stanford, CT: Appleton and Lange, 1992.

Federal-based data

State-based data

Data Sets

Mortality

  • Occupational Mortality in Washington State 1950 - 1989. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-133, (1997, March). Also available as 1 MB PDF, 181 pages. Provides occupational and cause-of-death information on 588,090 Washington State male deaths for 1950-1989 and 88,071 female deaths for 1974-1989 and was analyzed using an age and year-of-death standardized proportionate mortality ratio program. A detailed cause-of-death analysis (161 causes) is published for each of 219 occupational categories for males and for each of 68 occupational categories for females.

Morbidity

Methods

For information on general, occupational, and environmental epidemiology methods, please see Occupational Epidemiology References.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Biological Exposure

Chemical Exposure

Physical Exposure

Training

Programs in Occupational Epidemiology

  • Association of Schools of Public Health

Conferences/Short Courses

  • NIOSH Teaching Epidemiology in Occupational Health. Cincinnati, (1997).

Other Resources

Federal Government Programs

  • A to Z List of Cancers. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Studies. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Epidemiology Branch. Provides an A to Z index of current studies including Agricultural Health Study, Farming and Movement Evaluation Study, and Farmworkers Health Study.

  • Comprehensive Epidemiologic Data Resource (CEDR). US Department of Energy (DOE). Provides occupational epidemiologic studies conducted at many nuclear weapons plants, such as Hanford, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Rocky Flats, and Savannah River. They include data from cohort and case-control design studies, many of which have individual-level radiation exposure measurements.

  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Provides a table of contents of guidelines for many hazardous chemicals. The files provide technical chemical information, including chemical and physical properties, health effects, exposure limits, and recommendations for medical monitoring, personal protective equipment (PPE), and control procedures.

State Government Programs

  • Division of Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Provides information to track, control and prevent communicable diseases and other conditions in Colorado to reduce illness and premature deaths.

  • Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets. State of New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS). Provides a collection of documents on individual hazardous chemicals. Each sheet contains acute and chronic health hazards, identification, workplace exposure limits, medical tests, workplace controls and practices, personal protective equipment, handling and storage, questions and answers, definitions, and emergency response information for fires, spills and first aid.

International and Private Organizations

  • Health Topics. World Health Organization (WHO). Provides extensive A to Z index of health topics with links to related publications.
    • Publications. Includes link to the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS).
  • Health Topics. Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Journals

  • Epi-Monitor

  • American Journal of Epidemiology

  • American Journal of Industrial Medicine

  • International Journal of Epidemiology

Software

  • Epi Info™ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Software Download. Offers free software for download that is available on the internet to assist in epidemiological studies.

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