Workplace chemical and toxin exposures reported to a Poisons Information Centre: a diverse range causing variable morbidity

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Abstract

Objective

The aim of this study is to determine the period prevalence, nature and causes of workplace chemical and toxin exposures reported to the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (VPIC).

Patients and methods

All cases classified as ‘workplace: acute’ when entered into the VPIC database (June 2005–December 2013) were analysed. Data were collected on patient sex, the nature of the chemical or toxin, route of exposure and season.

Results

Overall, 4928 cases were extracted. Exposures to men (71.5% of calls) differed from women (P<0.001), with most exposures relating to industry/trade substances (23.7%) and cleaners/bleaches/detergents (36.9%), respectively. Ocular (33.2%), inhalational (27.7%) and dermal (22.1%) exposures were most common. Exposures were most common in Spring and most seasonal variation was found for veterinary/animal, agricultural/plant and household categories (P<0.05). In all, 3445 (69.9%) cases had symptoms related to their exposure at the time of the call. However, the proportion of symptomatic cases within the major substance categories differed significantly (P<0.001). Chemicals associated with the most symptoms were cleaners/bleaches/detergents, industrial/trade substances and acids.

Conclusion

Mild-moderately important workplace exposures are common. Significant variations exist between the sexes and seasons. Poisons Information Centres may play a role in ongoing surveillance of chemical and toxin exposures and a minimum exposure dataset is recommended.

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