Reported occupational respiratory diseases in Catalonia

Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2006;63:255-260; doi:10.1136/oem.2005.022525 [Link]

R Orriols1, R Costa1, M Albanell2, C Alberti2, J Castejon2, E Monso1, R Panades2, N Rubira3, J-P Zock2 members of the Malaltia Ocupacional Respiratória (MOR) Group

1 Societat Catalana de Pneumologia, Catalonia, Spain
2 Societat Catalana de Medicina del Treball, Catalonia, Spain
3 Societat Catalana d’Allèrgia, Catalonia, Spain

Correspondence to:
Dr R Orriols Martínez
Servei de Pneumologia, Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron, Passeig Vall d’Hebron, 119-129, 08035 Barcelona, Spain;


Objectives: A voluntary surveillance system was implemented in Catalonia (Spain) to ascertain the feasibility, incidence, and characteristics of occupational respiratory diseases and compare them with those of the compulsory official system.

Methods: In 2002, in collaboration with the Occupational and Thoracic Societies of Catalonia, occupational and chest physicians and other specialists were invited to report, on a bimonthly basis, newly diagnosed cases of occupational respiratory diseases. Information requested on each case included diagnosis, age, sex, place of residence, occupation, suspected agent, and physician’s opinion on the likelihood that the condition was work related. Compulsory official system data derived from statistics on work related diseases for possible disability benefits declared by insurance companies, which are responsible for declaring these diseases to the Autonomous Government of Catalonia.

Results: Of 142 physicians seeing patients with occupational respiratory diseases approached, 102 (74%) participated. Three hundred and fifty nine cases were reported, of which asthma (48.5%), asbestos related diseases (14.5%), and acute inhalations (12.8%) were the most common. Physicians rated 63% of suspected cases as highly likely, 28% as likely, and 8% as low likelihood. The most frequent suspected agents reported for asthma were isocyanates (15.5%), persulphates (12.1%), and cleaning products (8.6%). Mesothelioma (5.9%) was the most frequent diagnosis among asbestos related diseases. The number of acute inhalations reported was high, with metal industries (26%), cleaning services (22%), and chemical industries (13%) being the most frequently involved. The frequency of occupational respiratory diseases recorded by this voluntary surveillance system was four times higher than that reported by the compulsory official system.

Conclusions: The compulsory scheme for reporting occupational lung diseases is seriously underreporting in Catalonia. A surveillance programme based on voluntary reporting by physicians may provide better understanding of the incidence and characteristics of these diseases. Persulphates and cleaning products, besides isocyanates, were the most reported causes of occupational asthma. Metal industries and cleaning services were the occupations most frequently involved in acute inhalations with a remarkably high incidence in our register.

Keywords: occupational respiratory diseases; surveillance; occupational asthma