Workplace Illness

Workplace Illness

262 deaths every Hour, 6300 deaths every Day take place worldwide in occupation-related  accidents! 

That is not all. 217 million new cases of work related disease occur each year. 30 to 40% of these  become chronic and 10% develop permanent work disability. Those killed at work or falling ill as  result of work outnumber those from road accidents, war or AIDS.  

“To Love one’s occupation is to be happy-but where are the occupations one can love?”  

Ramazzini 1713  

Father of Occupational Medicine 

Work itself is life enhancing and promotes health but we must be conscious that bad working  conditions can give rise to injury, illness, aggravation of existing illnesses and reduced work  efficiency. Some occupational illnesses like deafness are not treatable and only prevention is  possible.  


GPs are usually the point of first contact when workers fall ill. In fact many GPs double up as  company medical officers in between practice sessions. So, illnesses and symptoms that occur due to  or during work are very much the business of the general practitioner. What is more GPs in their role  as company MOs are often called upon to carry out both pre-employment and regular medical  examinations of various categories of employees. Please keep in mind that housewives or home  makers who are the back bone of any nation also fall ill in the course of their work and have to seek  help from their GPs.  

  • This print CPD lesson will cover the following areas;  
  • Importance of History
  • Common workplace illnesses.  
  • Occupational hazards of computer use.
  • Low Back Pain.
  • Occupational Deafness.
  • Annual Medical Examination
  • Notifiable Occupational


The history is crucial. That is history. Matters of history are not only important for diagnosis and  management of occupational illness but also for pre-employment and periodical assessments of  the work force.  

o A good history enables an early diagnosis and treatment of an illness having an occupational  origin. E.g. Bronchial Asthma due to workplace dust or fumes in electronic industries.   Cancer of nasal sinuses due to wood work.  

 Silicosis due work in porcelain or in cement production.  

 Upper back pain from computer work.  

 Lower back ache from lifting weights.  

o Since removal of occupational cause is sometimes the only possible treatment (eg Noise),  a proper history is virtually curative .  

o Often a long period may have lapsed between exposure to hazard and the development of an  occupational illness. Here too the history taken adequately will give the GP a clue.  e.g Asbestos Cancers 15 to 25 years after exposure  

 Liver cancers years after exposure to solvents long after the cessation of employment. 

Two Key questions to ask patients:-  

1. What type of work are you doing?  

This includes further questions on time spent, posture, work done at home and hobbies. 

2. What type of work have you been doing in the past?  

Inquire about exposure to physical conditions like heat, noise, lifting weights, chemicals,  biological agents and abnormal postures. Also inquire about work stress.  
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