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Reducing the burden of disease caused by exposure at work: EU EPHOR

10 Dec 2019

In January 2020 the 5-year EU funded EPHOR (Exposome Project for Health and Occupational Research) project will be launched, which TNO leads. Here we will lay the groundwork for evidence-based and cost-effective prevention to improve health at work by developing a working-life exposome toolbox. By joining forces in this exceptional consortium of exposure, health and data scientists and technology partners (19 partners in 12 countries, see map) we will advance occupational health science in a unique way to reduce the burden of disease.

Why focus on working life?

Exposure in the workplace can lead to many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease. The total burden of disease caused by occupational exposure is estimated at 5-7%, similar to the burden resulting from urban air pollution or obesity. Given the associated societal and economic pressure, ensuring a healthy work environment is an important goal for government and industry. Current risk reduction policies and strategies are informed by existing scientific evidence. However, this evidence is limited due to the challenges of studying the complex relationship between exposure on the work floor and outside, and health.

The working-life exposome

The exposome, which takes into account all relevant exposure throughout the course of life in relation to health, is a promising concept for elucidating the complex relationships between environment and diseaseWe define the working-life exposome as all occupational and related non-occupational exposures (e.g., lifestyle, behaviour) throughout the course of life. Taking a working-life exposome approach will mean a great step for occupational health science. It will help address the current limitations and challenges by providing better insights into the relationships between exposure at work and disease at different life stages.

Approach

Within EPHOR we will develop methods and tools to characterise the working-life exposome. By applying these, we will obtain better and more complete knowledge on the working-life exposome. Through uniquely combining large-scale pooling of existing data (>40 cohorts; ~ 21 million people) systematically looking at many types of exposure and diseases with the collection of new data in case studies in which we will investigate the effects of working-life exposure on respiratory health in the general population and night shift workers.

The EPHOR toolbox and impact

The toolbox of developed tools, methods and knowledge will be made available to scientists, policy makers and occupational health practitioners. This will enable scientists to use and enhance the data, methods and models in exposome research, rapidly increasing the knowledge base on the working-life exposome. Policymakers and occupational health practitioners can use the toolbox for the development of evidence-based and cost-effective preventive policies and actions. Ultimately, EPHOR will contribute to reducing the burden of NCDs on EU healthcare systems, improving the health and wellbeing of EU citizens, improving the productivity of the EU workforce and increasing the competitiveness of EU industry.

If you are interested in following the EPHOR project, please visit www.ephor-project.eu (from January 2020).

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