Early detection of work-related diseases

Alert and sentinel systems can help.

SW – 09/2017

EU-OSHA’s European Risk Observatory (ERO) has published a report on ‘Methodologies to identify work-related diseases: Review of sentinel and alert approaches’. The ERO is tasked with detecting new and emerging OHS risks in order to improve the effectiveness and timeliness of prevention measures. 


The report provides an overview of current sentinel and alarm systems, as well as other monitoring systems which can be used to identify emerging work-related diseases. It also goes over weak points such as missing workplace assessment data, poor coverage of certain worker groups and diseases such as mental illness, and inadequate links to workplace prevention. 


Alarm and sentinel systems allow the early detection of work-related diseases. They supplement official figures for occupational diseases and they support fact-based prevention. 

The DGUV Risk Observatory

The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) has also established a Risk Observatory at the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA) for the early detection of new risks.  


The Risk Observatory’s findings are based on a survey of 400 labour inspectors who work for the German social accident insurance institutions, which is conducted every five years. They rate 93 trends on a scale between 1 and 7, then assess the relevance of these trends for employee safety and health. 


The last survey in October 2016 came to the conclusion that the three most urgent areas for OSH in the future are: intensification of work, demographic change and digitalisation (see article on Trends and drivers of change in ICT and work location). It was also determined that non-work-related health issues such as poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity can negatively affect work performance and will be a challenge for OSH in the future. 


The DGUV Risk Observatory is a tool for the early detection of prevention issues. The IFA developed the list of trends from an international literature study. In addition, labour inspectors could name particular risks resulting from the trends and make suggestions for prevention. In order to ensure that the assessments made by the labour inspectors did not significantly differ from the assessments of OSH professionals in companies, there was an additional evaluation which surveyed 700 OSH professionals. This second evaluation showed that around three-quarters of the OSH professionals confirmed the assessments of the labour inspectors; for the other quarter there were only minor differences in the risk assessment. 


Click here to read the EU-OSHA press release on the report.