Occupational Asthma Reference

Jeebhay MF, Lopata AL, Robins TG, Seafood processing in South Africa: a study of working practices, occupational health services and allergic health problems in the industry, Occup Med (London), 2000;50:406-413,


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Mohammed Jeebhay, Cape Town Mohammed Jeebhay

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The work practices, occupational health services and allergic health problems among workplaces which process seafood in Western Cape province of South Africa were examined. A cross-sectional study was conducted among 68 workplaces that were sent a self-administered postal survey questionnaire. Workplaces reporting a high prevalence of work-related symptoms associated with seafood exposure were also inspected. Forty-one (60%) workplaces responded to the questionnaire. The workforce consisted mainly of women (62%) and 31% were seasonal workers. Common seafoods processed were bony fish (76%) and rock lobster (34%). Major work processes involved freezing (71%), cutting (63%) and degutting (58%). Only 45% of workplaces provided an on-site occupational health service and 58% of workplaces conducted medical surveillance. Positive trends were observed between workplace size and activities such as occupational health service provision (P = 0.002), medical surveillance programmes (P = 0.055) and reporting work-related symptoms (P = 0.016). None of the workplaces had industrial hygiene surveillance programmes to evaluate the effects of exposure to seafood. Common work-related symptoms included skin rashes (78%), asthma (7%) and other non-specific allergies (15%). The annual prevalence of work-related skin symptoms reported per workplace was substantially higher for skin (0-100%) than for asthmatic (0-5%) symptoms. The relatively low prevalence of employer-reported asthmatic symptoms, when compared to epidemiological studies using direct investigator assessment of individual health status, suggests likely under-detection. This can be attributed to under-provision and under-development of occupational health surveillance programmes in workplaces with less than 200 workers. This is compounded further by the lack of specific statutory guidelines for the evaluation and control of bio-aerosols in South African workplaces.

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