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Trends in work-related respiratory diseases attributed to nickel, chromium and cobalt in the UK: descriptive findings from The Health and Occupation Research (THOR) network 1996-2019.

BACKGROUND: Occupational exposure to metals can be associated with respiratory diseases which can adversely affect the individual's health, finances and employment. Despite this, little is known about the incidence of these respiratory conditions over prolonged periods of time.

AIMS: This study aimed to investigate the trends in the incidence of work-related respiratory diseases attributed to nickel, chromium and cobalt in the UK.

METHODS: Cases of occupational respiratory diseases caused by nickel, chromium or cobalt reported to Surveillance of Work-related and Occupational Respiratory Disease (SWORD), the UK-based surveillance scheme between 1996 and 2019 (inclusive), were extracted and grouped into six 4-year time periods. Cases were characterised by causative metal exposure, occupational and industrial sector. Incidence rates diseases (adjusted for physician participation and response rate) were calculated using ONS employment data.

RESULTS: Of cases reported to SWORD during the study period, 1% (173 actual cases) of respiratory problems were attributed to nickel, chromium or cobalt. Diagnoses of asthma compromised the largest proportion of diagnoses (74.4%), followed by lung cancer (8.9%) and pneumoconiosis (6.7%). Cases had a mean age of 47 years (SD 13); 93% were men. The annual incidence fell from 1.6 per million employed in the first 4-year period, to 0.2 in the most recent period.

CONCLUSIONS: Over 24 years, a decline in the incidence of metal-related occupational respiratory diseases was observed in the UK. This could be attributed to improvements in working conditions which resulted in reduced metal exposure but could also be due to closure of industries that might have generated case returns.

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