Associate director of the Centre for Public Health Research, Associate Professor Jeroen Douwes and Professor Aaron Blair

More research needed to tackle occupational health

More research is needed to gain a better understanding of the neglected field of occupational health, specialists say.

Each year there are between 700 and 1000 work-related deaths in New Zealand, at an annual cost of $4.9 billion.

The Occupational Health in New Zealand: Challenges and Opportunities conference, hosted by the University’s Centre for Public Health Research, brought together experts from around the world.

Keynote speakers included Professor Aaron Blair from the United States National Cancer Institute in Washington DC, who spoke about the study of cancer in the workplace.

He told the symposium that funding for research into occupational health had been steadily decreasing in recent years.

“Some believe that occupation is not an important contributor to the cancer burden,” Professor Blair said. “There have been regulatory efforts to control exposure to harmful substances in the workplace, so many believe it isn’t an issue.”

More research was needed, however, not less. “We need to improve exposure assessment and also expand the research to cover women and minority groups, which have been largely ignored,” he said.

The Centre for Public Health Research has received a three-year grant from the Health Research Council for a project on occupational health research in New Zealand.

Lead researcher Dr David McLean agrees it is an area that requires more research.

“It’s been a neglected field, so over the next three years we hope to bring the issues to the attention of policy-makers and advance the understanding of the issues.”

Dr McLean says the symposium also featured representatives and stakeholders from business and policy-making institutions.

“Our goal is to see research implemented into policy,” he says, “so it’s important that people from the Department of Labour, the Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand are among those who attended.”

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