Workplace related cancer still far too common

June 28, 2012

A new study, funded by the Health and Safety Executive, has found that there are still significant numbers of workers dying as a result of exposure to cancer causing substances in their workplaces.

The study was recently published in the British Journal of Cancer and shows that about 8,000 people a year are dying of work related cancer. This number represents just over five percent of all cancer related deaths.

The greatest numbers of deaths are amongst males, with 6355 dying each year with 1655 female workers dying from cancers each year.

The research also revealed that over 13,000 new cases of cancer were developing each year due to the workplace environment.

The largest numbers of workers dying of work related cancer are those exposed to asbestos that lies in older buildings that are being renovated. Asbestos has been banned for a long time now in new buildings, but construction workers can still be exposed to existing asbestos structures.

Female night shift workers were found to be particularly likely to be affected by breast cancer with 550 deaths potentially ascribed to their workplace environment. The full scale of the effects of night shift work will apparently not be fully known for another three years as there is going to be a further review into the subject. One possibility that is going to be investigated is the long term effects of sleep deprivation or sleep related disorders that might result from shift work.

Other causes of cancers at work were exposure to things like diesel engine exhaust smoke, silica, exposure to the sun and substances like mineral oil found in the printing industry.

Certain industries seem to be much more likely to be the cause of cancer related deaths than others. The list is quite extensive, however, and cannot be restricted to a single sector. The list includes the construction, mining, printing and manufacturing industries as well as the defence force, painting and decorating and the wholesale and retail trades.

Cancer Research UK, as well as the TUC, have called on the government and employers to act swiftly to reduce the risks caused by unsafe workplace environments, specifically removing known and suspected carcinogens from anywhere they might cause risk.

The TUC’s General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said that the research had highlighted the terrible consequences of having carcinogens in the workplace and the urgency for the government to ensure that they were removed as soon as possible to avoid having further cancer related deaths 20 years or so down the track. He also said that where employers fail to provide a safe and healthy environment for their workers that they should face much stronger action to make sure that they comply with safety regulations.

Where any employee suffers from any type of work related injury or illness, whether it is a minor slip or a trip or something far more serious like cancer, they are entitled to claim compensation for the consequences as long as it can be proved that the effects were due to inadequate workplace safety standards. This includes the presence or exposure to known carcinogenic substances.