Most occupational diseases recognised in construction workers

The rates of occupational diseases continue to decrease in Finland. However, the statistics of 2018 show increased rates of hand-arm vibration syndrome, which is most prevalent in relation to the construction of buildings. The data is from the annual Finnish Register of Occupational Diseases. You can learn more about occupational diseases and exposure agents on the Work-Life Knowledge service.
Rakennustyöntekijä kantaa lautaa
Kirsi Koskela
Maria Pesonen

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health press release, 25 April 2022

In 2018, a total of 1,067 occupational disease cases were recognised, of which 755 were in people of working age.

The highest rates of occupational disease cases were confirmed in the following occupations:

  1. construction workers (excluding electricians)
  2. market-oriented skilled agricultural workers
  3. metal, machinery and related trades workers

In their line of work, construction sector workers face many exposure agents that can negatively affect their health. Common exposure agents include noise, hand-arm vibration and chemicals (e.g. epoxy), and asbestos exposure has previously been reported in the construction industry.  In addition, various strain injuries are recognised in the industry.

“Currently, epoxy compounds are cause for the highest number of work-related allergic contact dermatitis cases. When using epoxy-based products while working, such as epoxy paints, glues and coatings, it is important to protect the skin from coming into contact with the chemical,” says Maria Pesonen, Specialist in Dermatology and Assistant Chief Medical Officer at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome is becoming more common

With regard to occupational diseases, hand-arm vibration syndrome was recognised more than previously. Hand-arm vibration syndrome shows as periodic Raynaud’s phenomenon, and symptoms can include numbness and clumsiness.

The cases are most frequently associated with the construction of buildings, and with regard to occupations, hand-arm vibration syndrome concerns in particular construction workers (excluding electricians) and metal, machinery and related trades workers.

“Hand-arm vibration syndrome is an underdiagnosed disease that we are now suspecting and looking into more often in occupational health care. Hand-arm vibration is caused by many common tools, such as drilling machines, angle grinders and nail guns,” says Kirsi Koskela, Chief Medical Officer at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

There were a total of 34 recognised hand-arm vibration syndrome cases, of which 85 per cent were in men.

The most commonly recognised occupational diseases in the working-age population were noise-induced hearing loss, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, occupational asthma and pleural plaques. As in recent years, chemical exposure accounted for nearly half of all recognised occupational diseases (45%). Close to one third of all recognised cases of occupational disease are recognised after the working career.

Occupational disease reporting is an important occupational safety and health tool

Physicians have a statutory obligation to report occupational disease cases and suspected occupational disease cases to the Regional State Administrative Agency. At present, 60 per cent of occupational disease cases, even those recognised, are not reported.

“It is important that the Regional State Administrative Agency is informed of all occupational diseases and suspected occupational diseases. This is a central occupational safety and health tool that the Regional State Administrative Agency can use to target their occupational safety and health inspections, and it allows workplaces to make the changes necessary for improving occupational safety,” says Kirsi Koskela.

In connection with the annual Finnish Register of Occupational Diseases, tables are presented which correct the figures from previous years. In 2016–2018, the recognition information of some of the occupational disease cases was not successfully stored through the insurance company to the occupational disease data of the Finnish Workers' Compensation Center. With the updated data, recognition information for an additional 89 cases in 2016 and 136 cases in 2017 was recorded.

Further information

  • Kirsi Koskela, Chief Medical Officer, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Kirsi.Koskela [at] (Kirsi[dot]Koskela[at]ttl[dot]fi), tel. +358 43 820 0452
  • Maria Pesonen, Assistant Chief Medical Officer, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Maria.Pesonen [at] (Maria[dot]Pesonen[at]ttl[dot]fi), tel. +358 46 850 5031

Learn more

Share content on social media!