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RR384 - Feasibility study into the establishment of a retrospective cohort study of workers in the British semiconductor industry

The HSE has studied cancer risks in workers from one semiconductor manufacturing plant in Greenock but, because of the small numbers in the study, the results are difficult to interpret. There is therefore an interest in the feasibility of studying a larger cohort, from across the UK semiconductor industry. The power of such a study would be related to both the numbers of workers and the length of their employment in the industry.

This study set out to visit plants and inspect the records held, in order to investigate: whether sufficient data are held to allow the identification of a historical cohort; whether good descriptions of past jobs and working conditions are available; whether other important data such as smoking habits are held; and whether, taking these factors into account, a study would be feasible and sufficiently powerful.

An epidemiologist and an occupational hygienist visited each of eight plants selected because they had the largest workforces and were longest established. Using standard pro-formas, information was collected about the nature and extent of employment and other records held for individuals. Knowledgeable staff were interviewed about the history of the plant, hygiene monitoring practices and use of chemicals. Detailed reports were agreed with the companies. Similar information was sought by questionnaire from smaller companies, or for plants now closed.

We found that, given suitable clearance to access the company records, it would be feasible to amass a cohort of at least 12,000 current and ex-workers. This would allow comparison of mortality or cancer incidence both with external reference rates and between workers involved or not involved directly in wafer fabrication. Data on smoking habits are available for only part of the cohort, so only limited allowance could be made for individual smoking habits.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19