As November is Lung Cancer Month, our H & S Consultant, Colin Jones, decided to discuss occupational lung cancer for this month’s health and safety update.
Lung cancer, mesothelioma, and bladder cancer are the most common types of occupational cancer. Occupational cancers concentrate among specific groups of the working population. For these people, the risk of developing a particular form of cancer may be much higher than for the general population.
Occupational cancer is caused wholly or partly by exposure to a cancer-causing agent (carcinogen) at work, or by a particular set of circumstances at work.
Cancer is not a single disease with a single cause or treatment. It develops when cells in the body grow in an uncontrolled and abnormal way. There are numerous types of cancer, each with its own name and treatment and different types of cancer have different sets of causes. Many occupational cancers affect respiratory organs, or the skin or liver. An individual’s risk of developing cancer is influenced by a combination of factors including personal habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption, genetics, personal characteristics such as sex, ethnicity, age, exposure to carcinogens in the environment and so on.
Thousands of people die each year from cancer due to occupational causes. It is estimated that occupational cancers are a leading cause of work-related death worldwide. Asbestos-related diseases alone account for at least 100,000 deaths worldwide each year. In the United Kingdom, there are an estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer and over 700,000 are of working age. According to a study in Great Britain over one year, five per cent of cancer deaths (8,000 deaths) were attributable to occupational exposure. The number of workplace deaths caused by accidents in the same period was around 200 – so almost 40 times more deaths are attributable to occupational cancer than to accidents.
In Great Britain, it is also estimated that there are 13,500 cancer registrations (newly occurring cases of cancer) per year attributable to occupations. Therefore it is very important to reduce exposure to carcinogens and potential carcinogens. The British Journal of Cancer and Health and Safety Executive have more information.
It is difficult to determine a true figure for occupational cancers because of the latent nature of the disease. An individual might be exposed to a cause of cancer and not develop any noticeable symptoms until many years later. With current people moving between different job roles and companies, it can be difficult to determine a specific exposure or cause.
The diagnosis of occupational cancer must be based on a systematic approach in which the diagnosis of cancer is confirmed, the exposures of the patient are defined and quantified, and the scientific evidence regarding the risk from such exposures is evaluated.
The most important lung carcinogens in occupational settings are asbestos, radon, arsenic, chromium, silica, beryllium, nickel, cadmium and diesel exhaust. The most important agents for leukaemia are benzene, ionizing radiation and ethylene oxide.
COSHH is the legislation that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health, including exposure to carcinogens. Regardless of your industry, COSHH is an important aspect to consider.
Has your building been assessed for Asbestos? Do you know what is in the cleaning products that you use? Is there dust present in the workplace for prolonged periods of time? Do employees work in closed areas with poor ventilation around fumes? As an employer, it is your responsibility to look at this and do what you need to do to minimize exposure and maintain the safety and wellbeing of your employees.
If you have any Health and Safety concerns or would like to discuss anything further, please get in contact with the HPC team today.
T: 0844 800 5932