Estimated prevalence of exposure to occupational carcinogens in Australia (2011-2012)
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Background and objectives: Although past studies of workplace exposures have contributed greatly to our understanding of carcinogens, significant knowledge gaps still exist with regard to the actual extent of exposure among current workers, with no routinely collected population-based data being available in most countries. This study, the Australian Work Exposures Study (AWES), aimed to investigate the current prevalence of occupational exposure to carcinogens. Methods: A random sample of men and women aged between 18 and 65, who were currently in paid employment, were invited to participate in a telephone interview collecting information about their current job and various demographic factors. Interviews were conducted using a web-based application (OccIDEAS). OccIDEAS uses the expert exposure method in which participants are asked about their job tasks and predefined algorithms are used to automatically assign exposures. Responses were obtained from 5023 eligible Australian residents, resulting in an overall response rate of 53%. Results: 1879 respondents (37.6%) were assessed as being exposed to at least one occupational carcinogen in their current job. Extrapolation of these figures to the Australian working population suggested 3.6 million (40.3%) current workers could be exposed to carcinogens in their workplace. Exposure prevalence was highest among farmers, drivers, miners and transport workers, as well as men and those residing in regional areas. Conclusions: This study demonstrates a practical, web-based approach to collecting population information on occupational exposure to carcinogens and documents the high prevalence of current exposure to occupational carcinogens in the general population.
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