News and Events

MonCOEH Researchers present findings on recent Veteran Health Studies

The 24th Annual Australasian Military Medicine Association (AMMA) conference in Hobart in October 2015 was attended by Drs Jill Blackman and Helen Kelsall, and Stella Gwini, PhD student who gave eight presentations between them on some of the findings of three recently completed Veteran Health Studies that were funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

From the Australian Gulf War Veterans' Follow Up Health Study 2011-12, a 3.5 year study, they presented on longitudinal aspects of physical and mental health and wellbeing 20 years after deployment to the 1990-1991 Gulf War and ten years after the baseline study. Their findings showed persisting increase in multiple symptom reporting, chronic fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic pain, psychological health, health services and pharmaceutical use and DVA disability claims based on self-report and data linkage, lifestyle risk factors in serving and ex-serving personnel, and lessons learned from our assessment of self-reported and recorded deployment-related exposures.

Helen also presented with our collaborator, Prof Kathryn Magruder, on the United States Australia Joint Research Effort and health impacts and veterans' health care systems between Australia and the USA: A comparison for post-1990 deployments. Prof Magruder also visited SPHPM prior to the conference and spoke at a DVA Research Forum in Melbourne.

Helen gave a further presentation on posttraumatic stress disorder in 1990-1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans: A systematic review and meta-analysis, based on a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses that MonCOEH undertook in collaboration with Prof Mark Creamer, University of Melbourne.

MonCOEH's Dr Helen Kelsall receiving the 2015 AMMA Patron's Prize for the best paper from the President of the Association, Dr Greg MahoneyHelen was also awarded the 2015 AMMA Patron's Prize for the best paper written by a Member of the Association published in a peer review journal during the year. The publication was Kelsall HL, Wijesinghe MSD, Creamer MC, McKenzie DP, Forbes AB, Page MJ, Sim MR. Alcohol use and substance use disorders in Gulf War veterans compared to non-deployed military personnel. Epidemiologic Reviews 2015; 37(1):38-54. This is the second consecutive year that she has been awarded the Prize.

AMMA is the main military and veteran health conference in the Asia Pacific region and was attended by around 350 delegates, national and international, including senior health personnel from Department of Defence and Veterans' Affairs, researchers and practitioners.

Dr Helen Kelsall promotes MonCOEH's Veteran's Health Research

Dr Helen Kelsall was awarded a SPHPM Travel Grant to attend the VCU Conference "Military and veterans' health after a decade at war: Lessons learned and the road ahead", held in Washington D.C. in July 2015. She gave three presentations on research that the Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, MonCOEH has recently completed with collaborators, including a joint presentation with Professor Kathryn Magruder from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) on the United States Australian Joint Research Effort. The research was funded by the Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The presentations were:

  • Comparison of health impacts and veterans' health care systems between Australia and the USA for post-1990 deployments. Magruder K, Sim M, Kelsall H.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder in 1990?1991 Gulf War veterans, Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Kelsall H, Creamer M, Forbes A, Page M, Sim M.
  • The Australian Gulf War Veterans' Health Follow Up Health Study 2011-2012. Kelsall H, Ikin J, Gwini S, Forbes A, Sim M.

In addition, Helen and Professor Magruder presented the Comparison of health impacts and veterans' health care systems between Australia and the USA for post-1990 deployments to a meeting of senior US Veterans Affairs (VA) and military researchers and administrators and international dial ins at the VA offices in Washington DC.

The trip was a great opportunity to meet other researchers and make further connections with key people in this field, raise awareness of the research we are conducting, compare and contrast findings, and consider ways of progressing the research to improve health outcomes.

Finally, Helen, who coordinates the Master of Public Health (MPH) in the School took the opportunity to visit briefly one of the great US public health schools, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and meet with their MPH Coordinator.

Air pollution from wildfires may ignite heart hazards

Air pollution from wildfires may increase risk of cardiac arrests, and other sudden acute heart problems, researchers have found. Lead author Dr Anjali Haikerwal said while breathing wildfire smoke was linked to respiratory problems such as asthma – evidence of an association between wildfire smoke exposure and heart problems has been inconsistent.

Read more in Monash News

Melbourne to host the 2021 Congress of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH)

The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) has announced its triennial Congress will be held in Melbourne in 2021. The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians will be the host organisation for Congress.

Professor Malcolm Sim from the SPHPM's Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health (MonCOEH) along with other school staff, Professor Dino Pisaniello from the University of Adelaide, Dr David Beaumont from AFOEM and Mr Marko Sanovic from the Melbourne Convention Bureau prepared the successful bid for this major international occupational health event.

"This is a significant opportunity for SPHPM and Monash University to showcase their contribution to occupational health in Australia, the Asia Pacific region and globally," Professor Sim said. The announcement was made after a vote of the ICOH Board and members at the recent 2015 Congress in Seoul that attracted over 3,000 delegates. The program for the Seoul Congress included hundreds of presentations from esteemed experts and professionals from the field.

"We look forward to planning and executing an informative and innovative Congress in 2021, that will develop the field of occupational health and improve the health of workers worldwide." Professor Sim said.

ICOH is the international peak body for occupational health and it aims to foster scientific progress, knowledge and development of occupational health and safety. It was founded in 1906 and today has a membership of about 2000 professionals from 93 countries.

The ICOH Congress is held every three years and the next Congress will be in Dublin in 2018.

Dr Helen Kelsall awarded AMMA Patron's Prize 2014 for best paper published in peer review journal

Dr Helen Kelsall was awarded the 2014 Australasian Military Medicine Association (AMMA) Patron's Prize at the 2014 AMMA Annual Scientific Conference.

The AMMA Patron's Prize is awarded by the Association's Patron, Air Vice Marshal, Dr Hugh Bartholomeusz, Surgeon General Defence Force Reserves, for the best paper written by a Member of the Association published in a peer review journal during each financial year.

It was awarded for the paper Kelsall HL, McKenzie DP, Forbes AB, Roberts MH, Urquhart D, Sim MR. Pain-related musculoskeletal disorders, psychological comorbidity, and the relationship with physical and mental well-being in Gulf War veterans. PAIN 2014; 155:685-692.

The analysis that formed the basis for this paper was funded by a Defence Health Foundation Grant for Medical Research - Booster Grant in 2011–12 and the research was based on data from the Australian Gulf War Veterans' Health Study 2000–2002, funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Veterans' health and the relationship between physical, psychological and social health and well-being and deployment is a key area of research interest in the Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health (MonCOEH). The paper that was awarded the AMMA Patron's Prize had considered two health outcomes with considerable morbidity in the military and veteran population, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders.

Paper received prestigious award

Ryan Hoy and co-authors John Burgess, Geza Benke, Melanie Matheson, Stephen Morrison, Lyle Gurrin, Haydn Walters, Shyamali Dharmage and Michael Abramson have been awarded the 2014 Adolph G. Kammer Merit in Authorship Award for their outstanding contributions to the medical literature by the Board of Directors of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

The paper titled 'Occupational exposures and the development of new-onset asthma: A population-based cohort study from the ages of 13 to 44 years' was published in the March 2013 issue of the College's Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM).

This award was originally created in 1948 to recognize the author(s) of an article of outstanding significance in occupational medicine and was named for Adolph G. Kammer, MD (1903-1962), a past president of our organization and the first editor of our journal, JOEM. Dr Ryan Hoy is part of the NHMRC Capacity Building Grant, a program designed to improve the link between research, policy and practice by actively engaging key occupational health and safety stakeholders and to more effectively disseminate the results of research to policy makers and practitioners.

Monash researchers' timely study into effect of planned burns in southeast Victoria

The prolonged smoke exposure currently experienced by residents of Morwell and surrounding areas as a result of the Hazelwood fire has caused very poor air quality ratings since the fire began in early February.

Coincidentally, a team of researchers led by Dr Martine Dennekamp from the DEPM's Clinical Epidemiology and MonCOEH Units, have been visiting towns in the south eastern regions of Victoria, including Traralgon, Maffra and Warburton, to collect data from participants in order to establish a baseline healthy reading of the participants' respiratory and cardiovascular health.

Participants in the Planned Burns Study are being asked to complete a questionnaire, followed by a series of medical tests including tests of heart and lung function, blood pressure and a blood test, which will be repeated after any planned burns occur in the area. "We're trying to see whether we can expect long-term effects from individual-level exposure," Dr Dennekamp told Stephanie Charalambous of the Latrobe Valley Express.

Dr Dennekamp said that there are currently very few studies looking at the long term effects of smoke exposure within the community. The study is being funded by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

Professor Malcolm Sim wins the Dean's Award for Excellence in External Engagement

MonCOEH's Director Prof Malcolm Sim has been awarded the Dean's Award for Excellence in External Engagement for his valuable work with a variety of national and international organisations. These include the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the Defence Health Foundation and Safe Work Australia. He is also on the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare's Human Research Ethics Committee.

Prof Sim collaborated with the National Institute for Occupational Health and Poison Control in China to improve occupational disease diagnosis and surveillance in China. He is also on the Editorial Board of the Cochrane OSH Review Group, based at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and was an invited member of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Expert Scientific Committee to develop Monograph 102 on radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.

Prof Sim is also Editor-in-Chief of the leading journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Malaya and at Mahidol University in Bangkok. He was elected to the Board of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) in 2012.

The award also took into account Prof Sim's research projects over the past three years. His research primarily investigates occupational and environmental risk factors for chronic diseases, such as cancer and respiratory disease, exposure assessment, occupational disease surveillance, veteran and firefighter health research and the health effects of environmental exposures to mobile phones.

Older workers take longer to return to work after work-related injury

In general, older workers usually take longer to return to work after a work-related injury. The reasons for this are not fully understood, but include older workers suffering more severe injuries, perceptions that older workers may be less capable of returning to work as quickly as younger workers, which may influence healthcare provider–worker and workplace–worker interactions in the return-to-work process, and older workers have a lower functional capacity prior to injury, which impacts on their recovery.

While workers' compensation claims are a valuable resource to examine risk of work injury and return to work outcomes, this data source often does not contain information about health conditions the injured worker may have had prior to their injury.

Associate Professor Peter Smith from the Monash Centre of Occupational and Environmental Health recently led a project that examined the impact of eight different pre-existing chronic conditions (diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, coronary heart disease, thyroid conditions, hearing problems and depression) on age differences in wage replacement among workers' compensation claimants in British Columbia in Canada.

Using a unique linked database available through Population Data BC, chronic conditions were identified using medical billing and hospitalisation information, which was linked to each workers' compensation record for the five years preceding the work injury.

Interesting findings include that the relationship between age and days of wage replacement differ for men and women. Median days of wage replacement increase with age among men, however among women days of wage replacement peak in middle-age. Diabetes was the only condition which mediated the relationship between age and days of wage replacement among men and women. Osteoarthritis also mediated age difference in wage replacement among men, and coronary heart disease mediated age differences among women. While a better understanding of the mechanisms linking diabetes to longer durations of wage replacement is required it should be noted that almost three-quarters of the age effect on wage replacement remained unexplained after adjusting for differences in the prevalence of pre-existing conditions across age groups.

Future studies should explore how other factors in the return-to-work-process differ across age groups.

What can we do about the health impact of bushfire smoke?

The Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health's Dr Martine Dennekamp and Faye Johnston from the University of Tasmania have an article in The Conversation about the impact of bushfire smoke on health. They provide tips on how to protect your health during times of bushfires which is particularly important for people who are in high risk categories such as people with pre-existing heart or lung disease, pregnant women, young children, and the elderly.

MonCOEH researchers are now recruiting participants in the Warburton, Traralgon, Maffra or Heyfield region for their study examining the health effects of indoor and outdoor smoke during prescribed burning.

Find out more at

Researchers gain NHMRC Funding for CRE in population health research on electromagnetic energy

Congratulations to Prof Michael Abramson (Clinical Epidemiolgoy) and co-investigators, including MonCOEH's Prof Malcolm Sim and Dr Geza Benke on being awarded NHMRC funding of $2,500,000 over five years for a Centre of Research Excellence for Population Health Research on Electromagnetic Energy, commencing in October 2013.

This international research collaboration will include studies of brain tumours in young people, cancer and neurological outcomes in older adults, studies of neurocognitive function in children and adolescents, personal exposures from radiofrequency sources in the community, monitoring personal exposure of radiofrequency and MRI workers and risk perception and communication.

Outcomes will be translated into health policy and practice through linkages with international and national organisations.

ARC Linkage Grant Success

MonCOEH's Associate Professor Peter Smith has been successful in receiving an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant as Chief Investigator of a project titled ‘Understanding individual, workplace and system level influences on return to work in a changing Australian labour market'.

This project will identify where challenges arise in return to work after a work-related injury or illness for older workers and people with mental stress claims. The results of this project will help form the basis of policy and program changes to address these issues and enable these groups of workers to have better health and economic outcomes.

The Linkage Projects scheme provides funding for projects that initiate and/or develop long-term strategic collaborations between higher education researchers and other organisations such as industry and end-user organisations in order to apply advanced knowledge to problems and provide opportunities to obtain national economic, social or cultural benefits.

Partner organisations for this project include WorkSafe Victoria, Australian Human Rights Commission, Safe Work Australia, Beyondblue: the national depression initiative, and the AI Group.

MonCOEH's postgraduate courses get OHS accreditation

Monash University's Graduate Diploma and Master in Occupational and Environmental Health has been accredited by The Australian Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Education Accreditation Board this week.

Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board education advisor Professor Bruce King said the Monash programs set a new benchmark.

"Monash University is the premier occupational health research centre in Australia, and these programs combine research-led understanding with a genuine commitment to high level, technology-supported teaching and learning," Professor King said.

"OHS advisors are increasingly required to have university qualifications with the Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board setting the benchmark for such qualifications.

"The Monash Graduate Diploma and Masters in Occupational and Environmental Health is unique in that while it is designed to meet the needs of occupational health advisors, it has a broad base and also addresses the needs of generalist OHS professionals, with a particular interest in the occupational health aspects of OHS.

"With the total cost of work-related disease estimated at $30 billion per year, such a focus on worker health is becoming increasingly important."

Australian OHS Education Accreditation Board Registrar Pam Pryor said the objective of the Board was to ensure that quality professional education was available to aspiring and current OHS professionals.

"This requires a range of programs with differing emphases to meet the various OHS needs of industry and Monash University does this," Ms Pryor said.

Linking occupational health research with policy and practice

Early career researchers from MonCOEH, the University of Western Australia and the University of Melbourne who are supported by the NHMRC Capacity Building Grant ran a day long symposium on research translation discussing their latest work and health research. The symposium called 'Steps to better workplace health: Linking research with policy and practice' was attended by 80 people. It brought together researchers, industry policy makers and practitioners from organisations such as Safe Work Australia, WorkSafe Victoria, The Safety Institute of Australia, ISCRR, Beyond Blue, Superfriend, AMES, VicHealth and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Lottery draw for WorkHealth Study's lucky participants

Recently, the study of 1306 people who had WorkHealth checks was completed by the MonCOEH research team as a part of WorkSafe Victoria's WorkHealth evaluation project. In recognition of their participation, a lottery draw was conducted for 50 participants to win $100 department store vouchers on 13th of September, 2012, in the presence of (above left to right) Ms Vivien Zientek and Ms Alison Wallace (WorkSafe), Prof Malcolm Sim (Project leader), and Ms Pam Anders (WorkHealth Director), Drs Helen Kelsall and Roslin Botlero, and Ms Jane Miosge. The winners were randomly selected by a special computer program and personally notified by phone soon after the draw.

Prof Malcolm Sim elected to the Board of the ICOH

Prof Malcolm Sim was elected to the Board of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) at the ICOH Congress held in Mexico in March. ICOH is the main worldwide professional society for those working in the field of occupational health. It was established in 1906 in Milan, Italy and its aims over the past 106 years have been to foster the scientific progress, knowledge and development of occupational health and safety in all its aspects. ICOH has almost 2000 members from 93 countries and it works closely with WHO, ILO and other NGO partners, with a strong focus on improving workplace health and safety in developing countries in particular. Malcolm was also elected as Chair of the ICOH Scientific Committee on Occupational Medicine, which aims to promote research and improve practice of occupational medicine.

ICOH Board 2012