A comparative study of the respiratory system of wood-workers and office-workers together with their smoking habits in Darwin, Northern Territory

  • Siong Ching Robert Chea

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    The study was undertaken to determine via an epidemiological survey the prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms in a group of 45 wood workers/cabinet makers and to compare the study groups ventilatory capacities and symptoms with a control group of 45 office workers. The study aimed to discover the influence of wood dust on the respiratory system.

    The study included a questionnaire on all subjects (90 people) which provided data on their respiratory symptoms. By combining together information obtained via measurement of forced expiratory volume (FEV) per second and forced vital capacity (FVC) as well as height, and clinical examination, the study was able to statistically analyse the impact of wood dust and smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms.

    This study showed the prevalence of respiratory disease symptoms was higher in the wood working industry than in office work. The differences were statistically significant for the symptoms common cold, running nose, cough and breathlessness. The ventilatory capacities of wood working/cabinet makers were lower than the office workers, but this was not statistically significant, possibly because of the small sample size in the two groups.

    The differences observed in the combined groups according to their smoking habits were statistically significant for breathlessness and also for the FEV1:FVC ratio. Thus the non-smokers have stronger lung function than the light and heavy smokers. Of particular interest was the correlation between increased breathlessness and the number of cigarettes smoked per day. 

    Darwin, Australia has a small population generating only small sample sizes, despite this the trends are clear. Wood dust may well play a significant role in causing respiratory symptoms and smoking habits definitely contribute to the occurrence of respiratory symptoms. Provision of natural ventilation with sufficient forced ventilation in the workplace is recommended to dilute the wood dust and reduce the prevalence of such symptoms. Workers' health education on smoking habits together with statutary regulations being enforced would further reduce the incidence of respiratory symptoms. Unfavourable working conditions and general atmospheric pollution was observably higher in the wood working industries than the office workplace but to find statistical significance concerning respiratory symptoms will require an epidemiological study.

    As smoking habits seem responsible and increasing respiratory symptoms, both workplaces need to consider health promotion and quit-smoking programs to maximise the awareness of workers to this hazard.

    This study has laid down a base line of'data that significantly shows that wood dust and smoking do influence the respiratory system. Further work is required for greater clarity.
    Date of AwardMar 1996
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKathryn Roberts (Supervisor)

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