Cardiovascular risk in high-hazard occupations: the role of occupational cardiology

Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2021 Dec 17;zwab202. doi: 10.1093/eurjpc/zwab202. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Work is beneficial for health, but many individuals develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) during their working lives. Occupational cardiology is an emerging field that combines traditional cardiology sub-specialisms with prevention and risk management unique to specific employment characteristics and conditions. In some occupational settings incapacitation through CVD has the potential to be catastrophic due to the nature of work and/or the working environment. These are often termed 'hazardous' or 'high-hazard' occupations. Consequently, many organizations that employ individuals in high-hazard roles undertake pre-employment medicals and periodic medical examinations to screen for CVD. The identification of CVD that exceeds predefined employer (or regulatory body) risk thresholds can result in occupational restriction, or disqualification, which may be temporary or permanent. This article will review the evidence related to occupational cardiology for several high-hazard occupations related to aviation and space, diving, high altitude, emergency workers, commercial transportation, and the military. The article will focus on environmental risk, screening, surveillance, and risk management for the prevention of events precipitated by CVD. Occupational cardiology is a challenging field that requires a broad understanding of general cardiology, environmental, and occupational medicine principles. There is a current lack of consensus and contemporary evidence which requires further research. Provision of evidence-based, but individualized, risk stratification and treatment plans is required from specialists that understand the complex interaction between work and the cardiovascular system. There is a current lack of consensus and contemporary evidence in occupational cardiology and further research is required.

Keywords: Aviation medicine; Hazardous occupations; Occupational cardiology; Primary prevention; Risk stratification; Sudden Cardiac Death.