Book review: Hunter’s Diseases of Occupations

First published in 1955, towards the end of Donald Hunter’s career as director of the Department of Industrial Medicine at the London Hospital, the book “Diseases of Occupations” quickly became established as the most authoritative English-language reference source on occ­­u­pational illness.

The 10th edition of this publication still contains comprehensive descriptions of the industrial diseases that were prevalent in the early decades of the century. They were the health hazards associated with exposure to metals, gases, pesticides, welding, noise, vibration, increased/decreased pressure, high/low temperatures, radiation, organic/inorganic dusts, carcinogens, skin irritants/allergens and other agents that may affect the central nervous system.

However, this edition also has new chapters/sections covering occupational health challenges of the 21st century, including new, or newly updated, chapters on occupational toxicology, asthma, and non-industrial indoor work environments.

And there is a fascinating chapter on the need for occupational health clinicians to have knowledge of medical responses to bio­terrorism and related issues, and other chapters on the important hazards of occupational infections and zoonoses, that are increasingly becoming a global health protection challenge, on nanoparticles, and on work-related stress.

Updated and extended

Discussion of work-related stress was notably absent from the ninth edition published a decade ago, although a section called “Work and mental health” did address post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three new chapters on work-related stress and related disorders in the 10th edition address the biopsychosocial dimension of occupational health that has become so important over the past decade. As the editors note: “William Blake’s ‘dark, satanic mills’ may have finally receded into history [but] employees in almost all employment sectors complain increasingly of such problems as overwork, or fear of making mistakes, or of being marginalised, bullied and harassed, to the point of intolerable distress.”

Additional biographical material

The opening chapter is an extended and rewritten version of the historical essay on occupational health and medicine since the 16th century that was included as a postscript to the ninth edition. Now co-written with Joseph Melling, professor of medical history at Exeter University, the new chapter includes more detail about Hunter and his career from the late 1920s until his retirement in 1963.

He continued to lecture after retirement and the original author of the chapter, Tim Carter, recalls having attended Hunter’s lectures in the 1970s when the “inspirational teacher [would] entertain students, long after the scheduled finish of his lecture, with historical exhibits produced from a large cardboard box”.

The 10th edition comprises thematic parts (general, chemicals, physical agents, ergonomics, transmissible infections, mental health, respiratory diseases), and each one is divided into between two and four sections. More than 100 contributing authors (compared with 64 in the ninth edition), who are all experts in their fields, are associated with the book. And the publication has increased in size by 20% to 1,200 pages. It is also available as an eBook (see box, right).


Hunter’s Diseases of Occupations. Edited by Peter J Baxter, Tar-Ching Aw, Anne Cockcroft, Paul Durrington and J Malcolm Harrington.(1,200 pages, ISBN-13 978-0-340-94166-9, RRP £200), published by Hodder Arnold, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH.

Digital format

Purchasers of Hunter’s 10th edition are licensed to obtain a downloadable version of the book in VitalBook™ format which allows them to annotate their copy and to print sections.

The digital publication is part of the Vitalsource Bookshelf series that includes many (out-of-copyright) books that can be downloaded free of charge. Hodder Arnold is also constructing a website dedicated to the publication from which purchasers can access additional resources, including images used in the hard copy version and material from Donald Hunter’s archive.

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