Why report to OPRA?

Personal view: Dr T Hussain

It is important that occupational physicians have reliable, valid and recognised data sources to refer to when they need information about occupational diseases. The aim of the OPRA scheme is to provide a broad picture of occupational disease and work related conditions in the UK. The OPRA scheme, and the other THOR schemes, are one of the first data sources that I refer to when I need information, particularly about respiratory or dermatological hazards in specific industries. Practical occupational medicine is full of uncertainties; therefore having a reliable data source such as OPRA is invaluable in researching information about hazards.

I have also used information from the THOR schemes on a number of occasions to obtain data for the talks and presentations that I do. The information from the OPRA scheme allows me to present meaningful and reliable data to employers, employees and other occupational health and safety practitioners, regarding industry specific hazards. This, I believe, gives me greater opportunity to influence and effect change in industry in order to protect the health of employees.

Physician reported data sources such as OPRA are few and far between, and in my view provide more reliable data than self-reported schemes. I am hopeful that the information that I and others report to the OPRA scheme will not only allow me to do my job better, but nationally will help to drive risk management programmes (through the HSE) to areas where interventions are needed most. I feel it is my duty as a diligent and conscientious Occupational Physician to report to OPRA as accurately and as consistently as possible.

Dr T Hussain
Consultant Occupational Physician

Personal view: Dr D F Gallagher

Recently, I have redoubled my efforts to report regularly to OPRA. Why have I done this?

When I suspect a link between a particular occupation and a specific condition, I can use OPRA as a valuable tool for refining my opinion. As reporting of cases to the scheme is in the hands of the participating physicians, this has the advantage of encouraging those who may have been deterred from more formal routes of publication to return details to OPRA about a specific issue. No doubt this runs the risk of false positivity, but this "limitation" is more than compensated for by one of the key strengths of the scheme, i.e. its sensitivity. In our role as occupational physicians we aim to try to prevent occupational disease, and in this way I believe that this fundamental principle is mirrored within OPRA.

I have used OPRA for the following specific activities:

  • Checking data on respiratory problems relating to particular chemicals or occupation;
  • Investigating an apparent increase in cases of occupational asthma in a specific occupational sector (textiles); although I concluded this was an artefact, it prompted constructive debate about this issue between relevant parties;
  • As part of my continuing medical education, by reading/learning from the "Case of the Quarter".

I am also aware of the value that the HSE places on the scheme, especially when they are asked to conduct toxicity reviews for specific chemicals. As a consequence of this I know that the reports I send to OPRA will have a proportionate influence on the risk regulator (and not just because I work for the HSE)!

Appreciating its value, and having availed myself of its usefulness on many occasions and in different ways, I recognise that OPRA can only be as good as its reporters allow. Consistent reporting is small repayment for the help it gives me in my day-to-day working life.

Dr D F Gallagher
Consultant Occupational Physician