Research

Hand-arm vibration test found

Researchers from Sweden's Orebro University and the Norwegian National Institute of Occupational Health have identified a way to detect whether workers could suffer harmful effects from exposure to hand-arm vibrations before it's too late to minimise their harm.

The researchers found the metabolic profile of vibration-exposed workers with vibration-induced white fingers (VWF) were different from those without the occupational disease, both before and after vibration exposure. 

They studied 38 metalworkers whose work involved grinding metal products, and found blood sampling could provide a method for evaluating whether workers are at risk of developing VWF. The study found a "different profile of low molecular organic metabolites in serum for workers with VWF versus workers without VWF, both before and after exposure to vibrations during work".

According to the researchers, 30 per cent of work-related injuries causing medical disability in the Swedish workforce are suspected to be related to hand-arm vibrations. VWF, or secondary Raynaud's phenomenon, is the "vascular part in hand-arm vibration syndrome", causing workers fingers to become white and feel "severe" pain when exposed to cold. According to the researchers, workers who develop the disease find it difficult to participate in outdoor leisure activities and other events. "By the time the syndrome has manifested it is too late to perform technical measures at the workplace to minimise the workers' exposure to vibrations," they say.
Read more: Per Vihlborg, et al, Serum Metabolites in Hand-Arm Vibration Exposed Workers. [Pdf of full article can be downloaded] Journal of Occupational and environmental Medicine, online first March 2020, doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001864. Source: OHSAlert

Keep dust levels low to prevent asthma deaths

Occupational medicine researchers from Sweden's University of Gothenburg and other bodies have warned that occupational exposure to soft paper dust must be limited to below 5mg per cubic metre to prevent fatal consequences. The researchers say their results "underscore the importance of keeping the exposure to dust and other irritants low".

The study involved 7,870 workers from three Swedish soft paper mills, and found exposure to levels above 5mg per cubic metre was associated with a significant increased risk of death from obstructive lung disease like asthma. The researchers theorise that the increased asthma mortality could mean exposure to soft paper dust or related irritants can trigger fatal asthma attacks without being the underlying cause of the disease: that is, causing "severe asthma exacerbations".

Soft paper is used for producing toilet paper, paper towels and serviettes, with dust in mills consisting mainly of cellulose fibres and inorganic additives like kaolin and talc, the researchers say.

Of concern to Australian workers, the Safe Work Australia's workplace exposure standard for cellulose (paper fibre) is an eight-hour time-weighted average of 10mg per cubic metre.

The researchers say their study is the first to link exposure to soft paper dust with increased asthma mortality, although dust exposure is increasingly associated with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Their results are also consistent with previous studies that show exposures of more than 5mg per cubic metre are associated with impaired lung function, exhibited through decreased forced expiratory volume and forced vital capacity, they say.
Read more: Kjell Torén, et al, Occupational exposure to soft paper dust and mortality. [Abstract and Full text]  Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online first April 2020, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2019-106394. Source: OHSAlert

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