Many activities essential to the prevention of occupational diseases depend on the availability of reliable sources of information about occupational exposure to substances.
National occupational exposure databases, repositories for hygiene measurements made by government agencies as part of their prevention and control activities, seem to have tremendous potential. Their use is limited by questions about the representativeness of their content, coupled with a lack of contextual information for the measurements.
In Québec, the IRSST is managing the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). The LIMS contains all analytical results for samples collected since 1985 by teams of the Québec’s public occupational-health network.
The Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), is a database maintained by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and is the only other data source in North America of size comparable to Québec’s LIMS. Accessible to the public thanks to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the IMIS was created in 1979 and contains over 1.5 million records of samples collected by OSHA inspectors to verify workplace compliance with permissible exposure limits (PEL). These measurements are accompanied by more complete contextual information than in Québec’s LIMS, including information about the company where the inspection was conducted (industry), sampling date, reason for inspection, type of exposure and job title.
An IRSST’s study demonstrates that the IRSST’s LIMS and the IMIS regulatory database in the U.S draw consistent and complementary portraits of occupational exposure to the agents included in the analysis. The results suggest that the two data sources should be used in combination in future exposure assessment projects.