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Mortality and life expectancy of professional fire fighters in Hamburg, Germany: a cohort study 1950 – 2000

Author(s): Wagner Norbert | Berger Jürgen | Flesch-Janys Dieter | Koch Peter | Köchel Anja | Peschke Michel | Ossenbach Trude

Journal: Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
ISSN 1476-069X

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 27;
Date: 2006;
Original page

Abstract Background The healthy worker effect may hide adverse health effects in hazardous jobs, especially those where physical fitness is required. Fire fighters may serve as a good example because they sometimes are severely exposed to hazardous substances while on the other hand their physical fitness and their strong health surveillance by far exceeds that of comparable persons from the general population. Methods To study this effect a historic cohort study was conducted to assess mortality and life expectancy of professional fire fighters of the City of Hamburg, Germany. Fire departments and trade unions questioned the validity of existing studies from outside Germany because of specific differences in the professional career. No mortality study had been conducted so far in Germany and only few in Europe. Information on all active and retired fire fighters was extracted from personnel records. To assure completeness of data the cohort was restricted to all fire fighters being active on January 1, 1950 or later. Follow up of the cohort ended on June 30th 2000. Vital status was assessed by personnel records, pension fund records and the German residence registries. Mortality of fire fighters was compared to mortality of the Hamburg and German male population by means of standardized mortality ratios. Life expectancy was calculated using life table analysis. Multivariate proportional hazard models were used to assess the effect of seniority, time from first employment, and other occupational characteristics on mortality. Results The cohort consists of 4640 fire fighters accumulating 111796 person years. Vital status could be determined for 98.2% of the cohort. By the end of follow up 1052 person were deceased. Standardized Mortality Ratio (SMR) for the total cohort was 0.79 (95% CI, 0.74–0.84) compared to Hamburg reference data and 0.78 (95% CI, 0.74–0.83) compared to National German reference data. Conditional life expectancy of a 30 year old fire fighter was 45.3 years as compared to 42.9 year of a German male in normal population. Job tasks, rank status and early retirement negatively influenced mortality. For fire fighters with comparably short duration of employment the mortality advantage diminished with longer time since first employment. SMR of persons who retired early was 1.25 (95% CI, 1.13–1.60) in reference to the general German population and the SMR of 1.71 (1.18–2.50) in the multivariate regression model. Conclusion A strong healthy worker effect was observed for the cohort, which diminished with longer time since first employment for fire fighters with shorter duration of employment, as expected. The negative effects on mortality of job tasks, rank status and in particular early retirement indicate the presence of undetermined and specific risks related to occupational hazards of fire fighters.
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