“Is your job making you sick?”
“Is your job making you sick? Public Health has a Preventative Solution.” That was the intriguing title of a thought-provoking lecture presented this past week by Dr. Farhang Akbar-Khanzadeh, Ph.D., Professor; Director, MSOH Degree Industrial Hygiene Program in the Department of Public Health & Preventive Medicine.
It would be an understatement to state that Dr. Akbar is passionate about his profession. That passion is fueled by the simple fact that much of the morbidity and mortality associated with jobs is preventable. And yet they occur. In fact, among healthcare professionals occupational diseases are often unrecognized. And if I had to distill Dr. Akbar’s excellent lecture down to a single drop it has to be to get the health professional to ask one simple question of every patient seen: “And what is/was your occupation?”
While we may be sensitive to restaurant servers inhaling secondary smoke and machine operators developing “white hand” syndrome secondary to excessive vibrations, how many of us know that dentists can sustain hearing deficits due to the continuous use of drilling instruments or that medical students can experience temporary pulmonary dysfunction from formaldehyde exposure in gross anatomy class?
All this is especially apropos considering that April 28 is Workers Memorial Day according to CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6116a1.htm?s_cid=mm6116a1_e). It recognizes those workers who have died or sustained work-related injuries or illnesses around the globe. For example, in 2010, a total of 4,547 U.S. workers died from occupational injuries. Each year, approximately 49,000 deaths are attributed to work-related illnesses.
What about non-fatal illnesses? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2010 about 3.1 million workers in private industry and 820,000 in state and local government had a nonfatal occupational injury or illness. In fact, in that same year, an estimated 2.7 million workers were treated in emergency departments for occupational injuries and illnesses. About 110,000 required hospitalization.
How does this translate in dollars and cents? Researchers estimate that the cost of fatal injuries and fatal illnesses comes to $6 billion and $46 billion, respectively. Meanwhile, nonfatal injuries and illnesses are estimated to cost $186 billion and $12 billion annually, respectively.
So, to Dr. Akbar: Thank you for your lecture and your dedication.