A European-Funded Project Will Help Foster Healthy Work Environments

OMEGA-NET, a network to integrate and optimise occupational cohorts in Europe, kicked off in Barcelona

Photo: Phil Whitehouse

“Of the 120 agents considered as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), half were discovered and established in occupational settings. This is why this project is so important”. With these words, Kurt Straif, Section Head at IARC, began the kick-off meeting of OMEGA-NET that took place at ISGlobal – an institution supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation - on February 20 and 21.

OMEGA-NET  is an EC-funded COST Action with 73 participants from 28 countries. Its primary objective is to optimise the use of occupational cohorts in Europe in order to provide an evidence base for the identification of health risks related to employment and foster preventive policies.  It will do so by creating an inventory of existing cohorts and proposing how to harmonise them, establishing standardised protocols for future occupational cohorts, and developing dissemination and training activities. 

“Progress has been made, but there is still a lot to be done” added the IARC expert, indicating that there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in industry that have never been evaluated, and underlining the need for better exposure data, better burden estimates, and better economic impact assessments of the cost of inaction.

According to Manolis Kogevinas, ISGlobal researcher and leader of one of the project’s work groups, “there are about 30 million people in population-based studies in Europe, but we do not know what kind of information is available in these cohorts. This is why we need the inventory”.

The network also seeks to strengthen data collection for future occupational cohorts, with an emphasis on ‘new’ exposures and outcomes: healthy ageing, working hours including night shifts, employment patterns among the young, and skin diseases (in fact, skin cancer due to UV radiation is the most frequent occupational cancer).

“A novelty of this project is the short-term scientific missions, allowing exchange visits between participating institutions. This network is a very exciting opportunity to consolidate occupational health research in Europe” explain Michelle Turner (ISGlobal, Barcelona) and Ingrid Sivesind (STAMI, Oslo), Vice-Chair and Chair, respectively, of OMEGA-NET.

The two day meeting included sessions for the four working groups, brief presentations of cohorts from different countries, general discussions, identification of next steps, as well as the management committee meeting.