The SWORD surveillance scheme, now 10 years old, uses systematic reporting from physicians to provide a picture of the incidence of occupational respiratory disease in the United Kingdom. An estimated total of 2966 incident cases was derived from reports by chest and occupational physicians during the 1998 calendar year. Occupational asthma continues to be the most-reported respiratory condition, with an estimated 822 cases (27% of total cases). The proportion of cases of mesothelioma (23%), benign pleural disease (21%) pneumoconiosis (7%) and inhalation injuries (6%) remain similar to those estimated in past years, although fewer cases overall were reported. The most commonly identified agents causing asthma in 1998 were enzymes, isocyanates, laboratory animals and insects, colophony and fluxes, flour, latex, and glutaraldehyde. An increased incidence of respiratory diseases of short latency was seen in mining, whilst cases in chemical, mineral products and motor vehicle manufacture remained high; lower rates were noted in wood products and textile manufacture when compared with 1997 figures. Inhalation accidents over the past 3 years were reviewed; gaseous agents and combustion products accounted for nearly half of cases. High rates for inhalation injuries were seen in coal miners, fuel production, motor vehicle manufacturing, water purification, and chemical manufacturing.
West Virginia University, School of Medicine, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, Morgantown, West Virginia