Occupational hygienist experts and practitioners from around the country and overseas were in Adelaide last week for the 2012 Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) Conference.
Attended by more than 500 delegates, the conference addressed how environmental ‘stressors’ in the workplace may result in injury, illness, impairment, or affect the wellbeing of workers and members in the community. This comes at a time when the world seeks to address a myriad of workplace hazards such as asbestos, noise, shift work, lead exposure and radiation.
“As technological advances become more complex sometimes they carry with them certain health disadvantages making it an ongoing challenge for hygienists,” said Dr Barry Chesson, AIOH president. His Institute now boasts more than 1000 members in Australia.
“At the same time, social expectations require more consideration of workers’ welfare and wellbeing, putting the practice of OH right on the cutting edge of preventive medicine, both physically and socially.”
According to Safe Work Australia, work related injury and illness were estimated to cost Australia some $60 billion dollars with more than 130,000 workers compensation claims per year.
“Preventing ill health as a result of the working environment far outweigh the costs, we are working towards eliminating or controlling hazards in the workplace to protect the health of workers,” said Conference chair Charles Steer.
International keynote speaker Dr Jeroen Douwens from Massey University, University of Wellington, presented his research surrounding asthma causation, mechanisms and prevention.
His abstract read that occupational asthma and dermatitis are among the most common work-related disorders in industrialised countries like Australia and New Zealand. The research, conducted primarily in the sawmill industry, found that wood dust exposures were well below the current exposure standards and are associated with an elevated risk of asthma and lung function decline.
Douwens is well-respected in the field, is an author of more than 100 peer reviewed scientific publication, associate editor of the International Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and is director of a $5.6 million Programme Grant on occupational causes of motor neuron disease, congenital malformations, asthma and neuropsychological disorders.
Professor Doug Boreham, from the McMaster University in Canada, presented on how radiation exposure risk can be affected by biology and modified by diet and exercise. Professor Boreham has 25 plus years of radiation research experience and his expertise involves radiation cancer risk and the biological effects of low dose radiation exposures in humans.
Man made exposures to radiation typically come from two sources; 1) occupational exposure in the workplace, or 2) through medical procedures to identify and treat illness. Professor Boreham challenged how radiation risk is not proportional to radiation dose.
This new knowledge is showing how low dose exposure to radiation risk depends on biology and not just the actual dose as originally thought. Professor Boreham also presented recent results which show that exercise and diet can modify radiation risk.