Occupational Epidemiology

Programme
Occupational Epidemiology

Programme leader(s)
IJ. Kant

Mission statement of the programme
The mission of the research programme is to expand the knowledge on health in relation to work in order to contribute to the increased need of evidence-based (occupational) medicine. The research programme 'Occupational Epidemiology' aims to develop tools and strategies for prevention, treatment and socio-medical counselling of employees. In this way the research program contributes to the improvement of health and well being of the working population and the reduction of sick leave and work disability in the Netherlands. 

Description of the programme
The research programme 'Occupational Epidemiology' examines the mutual relationships between work and health. Using an epidemiological approach, risk factors in the aetiology and natural course of health complaints / diseases in relation to work are determined and the effect of interventions to improve workers’ health assessed. Risk factors may originate from the work environment (psychosocial, chemical, biological, and physical factors), the social environment (including family life), and individual characteristics (including health).

 Within the programme two main research lines exist:

  • Etiological and prognostic research on psychosocial work environment and (mental) health
  • Research on early intervention for workers at increased risk for sickness absence

Etiological and prognostic research on psychosocial work environment and (mental) health
This research line focuses on the relation between the psychosocial work environment and workers’ health and well being. The research group initiated and conducted the Maastricht Cohort Study (MCS). The MCS is a large scale prospective cohort study in which a heterogeneous population of employees (n=12,140 at baseline measurement) from 45 different companies in the Netherlands are surveyed. Employees were followed from 1998 onwards by means of self-administered questionnaires. Additionally, data on certified sickness absence were gathered.

Recently a large research grant was obtained from Stichting Instituut Gak to investigate the determinants of prolonged working careers among older employees. This grant enables extra follow-up measurements of the MCS, facilitating also other research questions requiring a long follow-up period.

Research on early intervention for workers at increased risk for sickness absence
Based on data of the MCS a screening questionnaire (the Balansmeter) has been developed to identify workers at increased risk for future sick leave. The development and validation of the instrument was done in close cooperation with occupational health service BETER. The Balansmeter enables a preventive strategy in which employees at increased risk for future sick leave receive early treatment and socio-medical counselling. In two randomised controlled trials it was demonstrated that early intervention among employees identified by the Balansmeter was successful in reducing sickness absence. In a recent PhD project the screening process of workers at risk for future sick leave and early intervention is evaluated from an epidemiological, medical and ethical perspective by means of an implementation project.

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