IDReC Health researchers secure more than $5m in HRC funding

Professor Jeroen Douwes, Director of Wellington’s Centre for Public Health Research has been awarded $4,999,989 over five years - the largest grant in this year’s funding round.

His research, entitled Interventions to reduce occupational disease will centre around three intervention studies targeting agricultural, construction and vehicle collision repair workers exposed to pesticides, silica, and solvents.

“Occupational disease is largely preventable through the reduction of causal exposures. However, interventions to reduce work-related disease – estimated to contribute to 600-900 deaths and 30,000 new cases of work-related disease each year, at an annual cost of $2.4 billion in New Zealand alone – remain rare,” Professor Douwes says.

“These exposures can cause respiratory conditions, cancer and neurotoxicity. We will conduct three cluster randomised controlled trials comparing pre and post intervention exposure levels; biomarkers in serum, urine and the airways; and reversible respiratory and neuropsychological effects, with controls. The intervention will entail technical control measures, improved use of protective equipment, and behavioural changes, and be guided by extensive airborne and skin exposure assessment. This will provide the scientific evidence to successfully reduce common harmful exposures and related ill health in high-risk industries in New Zealand,” he says.

“Causal risk factors are known for many occupational diseases, but surprisingly few studies evaluating occupational interventions have been conducted. The programme will be the first health-focused occupational intervention study in New Zealand and given its size and scope, will be unique in the world.

“In addition to contributing to primary prevention of occupational disease, it will also contribute to developing human capacity in occupational intervention studies which is currently lacking in New Zealand and is rare internationally,” Professor Douwes says.

The research programme, which will be conducted in collaboration with scientists from the United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Scotland and Australia, will build on previous HRC-funded studies conducted by Massey’s Centre for Public Health Research, which identified major occupational risk factors for cancer, asthma and neuropsychological deficits in New Zealand workers.

“It is important we now take the next step and develop the evidence-base to effectively reduce the high occupational health burden in New Zealand and internationally,” Professor Douwes says.


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