Last November, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) launched a campaign with the support of Macmillan Cancer Support, business leaders and academics, called No Time To Lose, designed to draw attention to the scourge of occupational cancer – a development that should also emphasise the importance of the right asbestos surveys in Birmingham and UK.
However, occupational cancer isn’t just a consequence of asbestos exposure, with such other work-related carcinogens as silica dust and diesel exhaust fumes contributing to conservative estimates of around 8,000 cancer deaths, of 14,000 people who contract the disease in the UK every year. Across the world, more than 666,000 people a year die from occupational cancer – one every 47 seconds.
Despite these figures being much higher than those for fatal workplace incidents, the invisibility of carcinogens, together with the long latency of their effects and the lack of knowledge around them, means that insufficient work is being done to bring down these immense numbers of cancer registrations and deaths. That’s why the campaign has called for governments and employers to work together to beat occupational cancer.
The proposed measures of the IOSH – which is the largest professional occupational safety and health organisation – have subsequently included a national database of work-related carcinogen exposure, apprentice awareness training, greater research into the potential cancer risk of new technologies and an increased emphasis on occupational cancer in medical courses.
The Chartered body has also urged businesses to sign a pledge demonstrating a commitment to controlling their own levels of workplace carcinogenic exposure. IOSH has also drawn attention to many of the most prevalent myths related to occupational cancer, such as that asbestos is the only cause of work-related cancer and work cancer cases are in decline.
IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones commented: “We need a concerted joint effort to educate and protect future generations from work-related cancer. Simple actions today will save lives tomorrow – there really is no time to lose in tackling this global tragedy.”
Imperial College London’s Dr Lesley Rushton, who led the most recent research into the UK’s work cancer burden, added: “There’s no excuse for young people entering into work and being exposed. And we need innovative ways to get key messages to the self-employed and those working in smaller businesses.
“If we don’t do something now, we are going to have thousands of occupational cancers annually, but if we take action now we can beat occupational cancer. We know there are problems with exhaust fumes and shift work, sun exposure is a problem. We know what the problems are, and we know how to reduce the risks. Now, we just need action.”