Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2000;26(4):317-321    pdf


Collection of data for occupational epidemiologic research - results from a survey of European industry

by Rushton L, Betts D

Objectives This study was carried out to provide information on the development of recommendations for the harmonization of record collection and retention by European industry to aid future epidemiologic research.

Methods A postal survey was carried out of 500 companies, stratified by size, in each of the 7 member states of the European Union. Three questionnaires were used respectively focusing on biographic and work history information, health records, and records containing information on exposures. Each questionnaire investigated the data items collected, the data format and location, the length of retention and factors influencing the length of retention.

Results The response after 2 reminders was 39%, 42%, and 33% for the biographic, exposure, and health questionnaires, respectively. Most companies recorded surname, first names, gender, address, postal code, and date of birth, but information on children, place of birth, and nationality were less frequently recorded. Overall, 26% of the companies had an occupational health service, 56% using a contract service, but the percentages varied greatly between countries. Over 85% of the French and Spanish companies carried out routine health surveillance compared with 20% of the companies in Germany and the United Kingdom. Exposure was generally measured for noise (84%), but only 48% of the companies measured chemicals and particulates. Measurements were more common for specific locations (73%) than for particular jobs or individual workers. Approximately 70% of the records were discarded within 10 years, French companies being the most likely to retain all types of records. Legislation was cited as the strongest influence on retention policies.

Conclusions Unless both individuals and industry are made more aware of the importance of record keeping, future occupational epidemiology in Europe will remain limited.