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Work-related illness in the petroleum industry

Over the course of 2009, the PSA received 658 notifications of work-related illness. This is somewhat less than the year before, when we received 888 notifications. Loss of hearing due to noise and muscular-skeletal problems still make up the majority of cases of illness.

Notifications of loss of hearing due to noise increased significantly in 2007 and 2008; however, in 2009 we saw a reduction in the number of reported notifications.

Loss of hearing due to noise
Noise-related illness is mostly identified through targeted examinations, and the number of reported instances depends on how many such examinations have been carried out and which categories of employees have been examined.

However, noise exposure remains a problem, especially within certain types of operations in the petroleum activities.

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Muscular-skeletal problems amounted to a large group of diagnoses, both in 2008 and 2009. The number of cases in this the group has stabilised over the past two years.

Muscular-skeletal problems
If we disregard the loss of hearing category, muscular-skeletal problems amount to more than 66 per cent of the other cases of work-related illness. However, the petroleum activities are not considerably different from other industry and business activities in Norway as regards the occurrence of such illnesses. The two most important causes of muscular-skeletal problems are heavy loads or lifts and repetitive, monotonous work, which represent almost 63 per cent of the cases.

The fact that heavy lifting amounts to such a large percentage can seem difficult to explain in light of increased mechanisation, but it emphasises the importance of good facilitation of work.

Skin ailments amount to the third largest group of diagnoses. Several of the cases are hand eczema as a result of contact with oil-based products.

Toxic effects
In 2009, there were 24 reports of toxic effect. There was a small increase compared to the year before, but a considerable reduction compared with 2007.

This category mainly includes persons who have taken ill following exposure to gas, smoke or vapours. There is special focus on possible illness as a result of such exposure, both from the authorities and the industry.

Undetermined conditions
The category “undetermined conditions” includes various symptoms that are difficult to classify in a group of diagnoses, but which are nevertheless considered work-related.

Other conditions
The group “other conditions” gathers a group of diagnoses with relatively few occurrences, which are not included in the other groups. Due to privacy concerns, we do not wish to specify these diagnoses individually.

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The above figure shows how the reported cases are distributed over various job categories.

For the drilling and well operations group, the number of cases has varied over several years. In 2009, 67 per cent of the reported cases were loss of hearing due to noise and tinnitus and 16.5 per cent were cases of muscular-skeletal problems.

The largest percentage change for the number of reported cases from 2008 to 2009 was in drilling and well operations. Here, the number of reported cases increased from 12 per cent in 2008 to 17 per cent in 2009.

Loss of hearing due to noise and tinnitus were the largest group of diagnoses, both within management, drilling and maintenance, with 74 per cent, 67 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively, of the reported cases of work-related illness.

As regards catering employees, muscular-skeletal problems were most dominant. Close to 64 per cent of the reported cases were part of this group of diagnoses in 2009.