The 2020 UK & Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Conference was hosted by the Centre for Public Health at the University of Bristol.
With the date of March 16 at the start of the first COVID-19 pandemic peak and uncomfortably close to when the UK Prime Minister would advise everyone against non-essential travel and contact with others (in fact, the latter announcement was made late afternoon on the 16th), the organisation committee had been agonizing about whether to cancel the conference or not. In the end, it was decided to continue with the conference as originally planned. Although the Conference was originally to host just over 50 attendees from Universities and other research institutes from the UK and other European countries, eventually just over 20 attendees decided to attend in person. This made it possible to implement social distancing throughout the Conference day while continuing to engage in interesting discussions and debates. We managed to also set up an online link that enabled attendees to listen to presentations online and some presenters to still present their work; not always successful, but this was before the time everybody was familiar with Zoom, MS Teams and other such software.
Despite these issues (which would of course get much worse in the months after) the conference ran smoothly and as a result of the relatively small in-person attendance resulted in very engaging discussions about the large variety of topics presented in-person or online.
The day was started by Mr Andy Boyd from the University of Bristol, who was invited by the organisation to talk about Enhancing Environmental data Resources in Cohort Studies: ALSPAC exemplar (ERICA), which will provide important linked data sources for future epidemiological studies of environmental exposures. The second invited speaker who closed the scientific programme was Professor Deborah Lawlor, also from the University of Bristol, who presented about Mendelian Randomization for Occupational Epidemiology; a potentially important novel methodology for occupational epidemiology.
The 2020 Conference Keynote Speaker was Dr Joachim Schüz from the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer who, despite presenting his work online, gave an engaging update on the latest evidence of research on the use of mobile phones and the risk of cancer, as well as an overview of remaining gaps in knowledge and future directions of research.
In between these, the conference covered presentations from a wide variety of topics and research institutes, including for example findings on chronic pain from the Health and Employment After Fifty (HEAF) study, an update of cancer incidence and mortality of the Porton Down veterans study, an update of the HSE Glass Reinforced Plastics Cohort Study, a presentation about the impact of flooding on mental health and wellbeing, work on stakeholder engagement for a surveillance system for lead exposure in children, characterization of outdoor open and green spaces in schools in Greater London, the feasibility of using StopWatch system for passive detection of cigarette smoking in the workplace, results from the European Epilymph case-control study, and a presentation of the newly formed DE-grading Epidemiology (DEEP) network.
Despite the situation everybody found (and still finds) themselves in, we (speakers, attendees, and organisation) together managed to continue the annual UK & Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Conference series with a great and memorable 2020 edition.
Next year the meeting will be held remotely and be hosted by the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leicester 3rd-4th June 2021.