Occupational Epidemiology (II)

Some more observations from the book below.

“RD [Retinal detachment] is the separation of the neurosensory retina from the underlying retinal pigment epithelium.1 RD is often preceded by posterior vitreous detachment — the separation of the posterior vitreous from the retina as a result of vitreous degeneration and shrinkage2 — which gives rise to the sudden appearance of floaters and flashes. Late symptoms of RD may include visual field defects (shadows, curtains) or even blindness. The success rate of RD surgery has been reported to be over 90%;3 however, a loss of visual acuity is frequently reported by patients, particularly if the macula is involved.4 Since the natural history of RD can be influenced by early diagnosis, patients experiencing symptoms of posterior vitreous detachment are advised to undergo an ophthalmic examination.5 […] Studies of the incidence of RD give estimates ranging from 6.3 to 17.9 cases per 100 000 person-years.6 […] Age is a well-known risk factor for RD. In most studies the peak incidence was recorded among subjects in their seventh decade of life. A secondary peak at a younger age (20–30 years) has been identified […] attributed to RD among highly myopic patients.6 Indeed, depending on the severity,
myopia is associated with a four- to ten-fold increase in risk of RD.7 [Diabetics with retinopathy are also at increased risk of RD, US] […] While secondary prevention of RD is current practice, no effective primary prevention strategy is available at present. The idea is widespread among practitioners that RD is not preventable, probably the consequence of our historically poor understanding of the aetiology of RD. For instance, on the website of the Mayo Clinic — one of the top-ranked hospitals for ophthalmology in the US — it is possible to read that ‘There’s no way to prevent retinal detachment’.9

“Intraocular pressure […] is influenced by physical activity. Dynamic exercise causes an acute reduction in intraocular pressure, whereas physical fitness is associated with a lower baseline value.29 Conversely, a sudden rise in intraocular pressure has been reported during the Valsalva manoeuvre.30-32 […] Occupational physical activity may […] cause both short- and long-term variations in intraocular pressure. On the one hand, physically demanding jobs may contribute to decreased baseline levels by increasing physical fitness but, on the other hand, lifting tasks may cause an important acute increase in pressure. Moreover, the eye of a manual worker who performs repeated lifting tasks involving the Valsalva manoeuvre may undergo several dramatic changes in intraocular pressure within a single working shift. […] A case-control study was carried out to test the hypothesis that repeated lifting tasks involving the Valsalva manoeuvre could be a risk factor for RD. […] heavy lifting was a strong risk factor for RD (OR 4.4, 95% CI 1.6–13). Intriguingly, body mass index (BMI) also showed a clear association with RD (top quartile: OR 6.8, 95% CI 1.6–29). […] Based on their findings, the authors concluded that heavy occupational lifting (involving the Valsalva manoeuvre) may be a relevant risk factor for RD in myopics.

“The proportion of the world’s population over 60 is forecast to double from 11.6% in 2012 to 21.8% in 2050.1 […] the International Labour Organization notes that, worldwide, just 40% of the working age population has legal pension coverage, and only 26% of the working population is effectively covered by old-age pension schemes. […] in less developed regions, labour force participation in those over 65 is much higher than in more developed regions.8 […] Longer working lives increase cumulative exposures, as well as increasing the time since exposure — important when there is a long latency period between exposure and resultant disease. Further, some exposures may have a greater effect when they occur to older workers, e.g. carcinogens that are promoters rather than initiators. […] Older workers tend to have more chronic health conditions. […] Older workers have fewer injuries, but take longer to recover. […] For some ‘knowledge workers’, like physicians, even a relatively minor cognitive decline […] might compromise their competence. […]  Most past studies have treated age as merely a confounding variable and rarely, if ever, have considered it an effect modifier. […]  Jex and colleagues24 argue that conceptually we should treat age as the variable of interest so that other variables are viewed as moderating the impact of age. […] The single best improvement to epidemiological research on ageing workers is to conduct longitudinal studies, including follow-up of workers into retirement. Cross-sectional designs almost certainly incur the healthy survivor effect, since unhealthy workers may retire early.25 […] Analyses should distinguish ageing per se, genetic factors, work exposures, and lifestyle in order to understand their relative and combined effects on health.”

“Musculoskeletal disorders have long been recognized as an important source of morbidity and disability in many occupational populations.1,2 Most musculoskeletal disorders, for most people, are characterized by recurrent episodes of pain that vary in severity and in their consequences for work. Most episodes subside uneventfully within days or weeks, often without any intervention, though about half of people continue to experience some pain and functional limitations after 12 months.3,4 In working populations, musculoskeletal disorders may lead to a spell of sickness absence. Sickness absence is increasingly used as a health parameter of interest when studying the consequences of functional limitations due to disease in occupational groups. Since duration of sickness absence contributes substantially to the indirect costs of illness, interventions increasingly address return to work (RTW).5 […] The Clinical Standards Advisory Group in the United Kingdom reported RTW within 2 weeks for 75% of all low back pain (LBP) absence episodes and suggested that approximately 50% of all work days lost due to back pain in the working population are from the 85% of people who are off work for less than 7 days.6″

Any RTW curve over time can be described with a mathematical Weibull function.15 This Weibull function is characterized by a scale parameter λ and a shape parameter k. The scale parameter λ is a function of different covariates that include the intervention effect, preferably expressed as hazard ratio (HR) between the intervention group and the reference group in a Cox’s proportional hazards regression model. The shape parameter k reflects the relative increase or decrease in survival time, thus expressing how much the RTW rate will decrease with prolonged sick leave. […] a HR as measure of effect can be introduced as a covariate in the scale parameter λ in the Weibull model and the difference in areas under the curve between the intervention model and the basic model will give the improvement in sickness absence days due to the intervention. By introducing different times of starting the intervention among those workers still on sick leave, the impact of timing of enrolment can be evaluated. Subsequently, the estimated changes in total sickness absence days can be expressed in a benefit/cost ratio (BC ratio), where benefits are the costs saved due to a reduction in sickness absence and costs are the expenditures relating to the intervention.15″

“A crucial factor in understanding why interventions are effective or not is the timing of the enrolment of workers on sick leave into the intervention. The RTW pattern over time […] has important consequences for appropriate timing of the best window for effective clinical and occupational interventions. The evidence presented by Palmer and colleagues clearly suggests that [in the context of LBP] a stepped care approach is required. In the first step of rapid RTW, most workers will return to work even without specific interventions. Simple, short interventions involving effective coordination and cooperation between primary health care and the workplace will be sufficient to help the majority of workers to achieve an early RTW. In the second step, more expensive, structured interventions are reserved for those who are having difficulties returning, typically between 4 weeks and 3 months. However, to date there is little evidence on the optimal timing of such interventions for workers on sick leave due to LBP.14,15 […] the cost-benefits of a structured RTW intervention among workers on sick leave will be determined by the effectiveness of the intervention, the natural speed of RTW in the target population, the timing of the enrolment of workers into the intervention, and the costs of both the intervention and of a day of sickness absence. […] The cost-effectiveness of a RTW intervention will be determined by the effectiveness of the intervention, the costs of the intervention and of a day of sickness absence, the natural course of RTW in the target population, the timing of the enrolment of workers into the RTW intervention, and the time lag before the intervention takes effect. The latter three factors are seldom taken into consideration in systematic reviews and guidelines for management of RTW, although their impact may easily be as important  as classical measures of effectiveness, such as effect size or HR.”

“In order to obtain information of the highest quality and utility, surveillance schemes have to be designed, set up, and managed with the same methodological rigour as high-calibre prospective cohort studies. Whether surveillance schemes are voluntary or not, considerable effort has to be invested to ensure a satisfactory and sufficient denominator, the best numerator quality, and the most complete ascertainment. Although the force of statute is relied upon in some surveillance schemes, even in these the initial and continuing motivation of the reporters (usually physicians) is paramount. […] There is a surveillance ‘pyramid’ within which the patient’s own perception is at the base, the GP is at a higher level, and the clinical specialist is close to the apex. The source of the surveillance reports affects the numerator because case severity and case mix differ according to the level in the pyramid.19 Although incidence rate estimates may be expected to be lower at the higher levels in the surveillance pyramid this is not necessarily always the case. […] Although surveillance undertaken by physicians who specialize in the organ system concerned or in occupational disease (or in both aspects) may be considered to be the medical ‘gold standard’ it can suffer from a more limited patient catchment because of various referral filters. Surveillance by GPs will capture numerator cases as close to the base of the pyramid as possible, but may suffer from greater diagnostic variation than surveillance by specialists. Limiting recruitment to GPs with a special interest, and some training, in occupational medicine is a compromise between the two levels.20

“When surveillance is part of a statutory or other compulsory scheme then incident case identification is a continuous and ongoing process. However, when surveillance is voluntary, for a research objective, it may be preferable to sample over shorter, randomly selected intervals, so as to reduce the demands associated with the data collection and ‘reporting fatigue’. Evidence so far suggests that sampling over shorter time intervals results in higher incidence estimates than continuous sampling.21 […] Although reporting fatigue is an important consideration in tempering conclusions drawn from […] multilevel models, it is possible to take account of this potential bias in various ways. For example, when evaluating interventions, temporal trends in outcomes resulting from other exposures can be used to control for fatigue.23,24 The phenomenon of reporting fatigue may be characterized by an ‘excess of zeroes’ beyond what is expected of a Poisson distribution and this effect can be quantified.27 […] There are several considerations in determining incidence from surveillance data. It is possible to calculate an incidence rate based on the general population, on the population of working age, or on the total working population,19 since these denominator bases are generally readily available, but such rates are not the most useful in determining risk. Therefore, incidence rates are usually calculated in respect of specific occupations or industries.22 […] Ideally, incidence rates should be expressed in relation to quantitative estimates of exposure but most surveillance schemes would require additional data collection as special exercises to achieve this aim.” [for much more on these topics, see also M’ikanatha & Iskander’s book.]

“Estimates of lung cancer risk attributable to occupational exposures vary considerably by geographical area and depend on study design, especially on the exposure assessment method, but may account for around 5–20% of cancers among men, but less (<5%) among women;2 among workers exposed to (suspected) lung carcinogens, the percentage will be higher. […] most exposure to known lung carcinogens originates from occupational settings and will affect millions of workers worldwide.  Although it has been established that these agents are carcinogenic, only limited evidence is available about the risks encountered at much lower levels in the general population. […] One of the major challenges in community-based occupational epidemiological studies has been valid assessment of the occupational exposures experienced by the population at large. Contrary to the detailed information usually available for an industrial population (e.g. in a retrospective cohort study in a large chemical company) that often allows for quantitative exposure estimation, community-based studies […] have to rely on less precise and less valid estimates. The choice of method of exposure assessment to be applied in an epidemiological study depends on the study design, but it boils down to choosing between acquiring self-reported exposure, expert-based individual exposure assessment, or linking self-reported job histories with job-exposure matrices (JEMs) developed by experts. […] JEMs have been around for more than three decades.14 Their main distinction from either self-reported or expert-based exposure assessment methods is that exposures are no longer assigned at the individual subject level but at job or task level. As a result, JEMs make no distinction in assigned exposure between individuals performing the same job, or even between individuals performing a similar job in different companies. […] With the great majority of occupational exposures having a rather low prevalence (<10%) in the general population it is […] extremely important that JEMs are developed aiming at a highly specific exposure assessment so that only jobs with a high likelihood (prevalence) and intensity of exposure are considered to be exposed. Aiming at a high sensitivity would be disastrous because a high sensitivity would lead to an enormous number of individuals being assigned an exposure while actually being unexposed […] Combinations of the methods just described exist as well”.

“Community-based studies, by definition, address a wider range of types of exposure and a much wider range of encountered exposure levels (e.g. relatively high exposures in primary production but often lower in downstream use, or among indirectly exposed individuals). A limitation of single community-based studies is often the relatively low number of exposed individuals. Pooling across studies might therefore be beneficial. […] Pooling projects need careful planning and coordination, because the original studies were conducted for different purposes, at different time periods, using different questionnaires. This heterogeneity is sometimes perceived as a disadvantage but also implies variations that can be studied and thereby provide important insights. Every pooling project has its own dynamics but there are several general challenges that most pooling projects confront. Creating common variables for all studies can stretch from simple re-naming of variables […] or recoding of units […] to the re-categorization of national educational systems […] into years of formal education. Another challenge is to harmonize the different classification systems of, for example, diseases (e.g. International Classification of Disease (ICD)-9 versus ICD-10), occupations […], and industries […]. This requires experts in these respective fields as well as considerable time and money. Harmonization of data may mean losing some information; for example, ISCO-68 contains more detail than ISCO-88, which makes it possible to recode ISCO-68 to ISCO-88 with only a little loss of detail, but it is not possible to recode ISCO-88 to ISCO-68 without losing one or two digits in the job code. […] Making the most of the data may imply that not all studies will qualify for all analyses. For example, if a study did not collect data regarding lung cancer cell type, it can contribute to the overall analyses but not to the cell type-specific analyses. It is important to remember that the quality of the original data is critical; poor data do not become better by pooling.”


December 6, 2017 - Posted by | Books, Cancer/oncology, Demographics, Epidemiology, Health Economics, Medicine, Ophthalmology, Statistics

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