Almost two million people die from work-related causes each year worldwide and the accurate number of people who suffered from occupational diseases is unknown.
In June 2022, a ‘safe and healthy working environment’ has been considered as a fundamental principle and right at work, understanding that ‘safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work’. These statements have been recognized by the International Labor Office (ILO) framework.
The primary goal of occupational health is to safeguard workers from hazardous effects of the working process by applying work-related primary and secondary prevention measures. Scientific research in occupational epidemiology may focus on workers exposed to chemical, biological, ergonomical, psychosocial or physical agents to find out if workplace exposures result in adverse health outcomes. Likewise, epidemiologic studies may involve the evaluation of workers with adverse health effects to assess if a particular agent or multiple agents may cause their diseases.
Recently, occupational epidemiology has faced new challenges as the result of substantial changes in the work environment, shifts in workplace hazards, migrant workers, outsourcing of dangerous work from high-income to low-income countries, as well as implementing new technologies related to Industry 4.0.
Therefore, the analysis of the impact of these changes is of high relevance both to scientific advances and policy-maker decisions.
The Special Issue ‘Occupational epidemiology’ in Current Opinion in Epidemiology and Public Health invited prestigious authors to provide original review articles and express their expert's opinion about Occupational Epidemiology focusing on novel issues of asbestos-related diseases, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the occupational setting, Epidemiology of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and Epidemiology of migrant workers. The choice of the topics reflects the current state of the labor market. We are witnessing the long-term effects of historical risks from the past such as the exposure to asbestos; facing how MSDs are still one of the main causes of occupational disease and seeing how new emerging risks such as the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped the workplace in the last 3 years, while migrant workers continue being a vulnerable population around the globe. We truly believe that all these topics are relevant and global public health issues to be addressed.
The article by Pira et al. provides an overview of the most recent updates about asbestos-related malignancies, focusing on the genetics of mesothelioma and on the relevance of immunohistochemical pattern to make an appropriate diagnosis, and the relationship between asbestos exposure and lung cancer. Identifying the most recent literature on the association between exposure to asbestos fibres and the occurrence of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and cholangiocarcinoma.
The contribution by Porru et al. summarizes the latest evidence on COVID-19's impact and management in the occupational settings, with special interest on healthcare workers’ population, vulnerable workers, post-COVID-19 conditions, and vaccines’ effectiveness. The authors highlighted the need to reassess the occupational risk by taking into consideration the appraisal of new medical conditions and susceptibilities appeared in the latest phases of the pandemic and to develop a tailored health surveillance.
The review by Bonfiglioni et al. identifies current gaps in scientific literature on associated with diagnostic criteria, biomechanical risk factor assessment, compensation, and the impact of new technologies. In particular, the authors identified a lack of consensus in MSD's definitions for epidemiological research and a high heterogeneity in studies’ methodological approach.
The publication by Salmen-Navarro et al. discusses occupational epidemiology of migrant workers and how they are globally and predominantly working on ‘4-D jobs’: dirty, dangerous, difficult, and discriminatory.
Today, we deeply understand the fundamental role of occupational and environmental physicians and how their intervention at the workplace can have a great impact on the occupational epidemiology of accidents and diseases around the world, regardless of the working sector, country, citizenship, and level of income. Unfortunately, Occupational Safety and Health services are only available in 10% of the population worldwide. Our role as Occupational Physicians is to continue providing visibility, advice, and strategic actions through joint efforts with policy makers, government stakeholders, and multidisciplinary international professionals; with the aim of preventing occupational disease and work-related accidents, with special focus on the most vulnerable ones.
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Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
1. Pira E, Godono A, Ciocan C. Novel issues in the epidemiology of asbestos-related diseases. Curr Opin Epidemiol Public Health
2. Monaco MGL, Spiteri G, Porru S. Coronavirus disease 2019 in the occupational settings. Curr Opin Epidemiol Public Health
3. Bonfiglioli R, Caraballo-Arias Y, Salmen-Navarro A. Epidemiology of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Curr Opin Epidemiol Public Health
4. Salmen-Navarro A, Samant Y, Seneviratne M. Epidemiology of migrant workers’ occupational health: a perspective from three regions. Curr Opin Epidemiol Public Health