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November 21, 2008

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Call for action to reverse occupational-cancers death toll

More people die in Scotland from occupational cancers than from road accidents, murders and suicides combined, a university academic has warned.

Writing in the European Journal of Oncology, Professor Andrew Watterson, from Stirling University, has called for urgent government action to address the issue, which he describes as a “major public health disaster”.

With more than half a million Scottish workers still exposed to workplace carcinogens, he has called on government to implement a range of prevention measures that have been shown to make a difference in other countries.

It is estimated that between 10 and 12 per cent of all cancers are caused by, or related to, work. This translates as up to 1800 such deaths each year in Scotland, at a cost of up to £2.4 million for each occupational-cancer fatality. Professor Watterson has called for a joined-up approach from government across health, environment, and enterprise departments, with financial incentives for employers that invest in tackling carcinogens at source.

Professor Watterson said: “The high toll taken by occupational cancers has been neglected, and UK regulators have been silent on this subject for a quarter of a century. Approximately 539,000 Scottish workers are exposed to workplace carcinogens. Each year, new carcinogens emerge, and more people are exposed to them.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told SHP: “Much of the legislation in this area emanates ultimately from the EU, and the UK Government is implementing the EU REACH Regulations, which seeks to gather hazard information, assess risks, classify, label, and restrict the marketing and use of individual chemicals and mixtures in order to better protect public health.”

She added that, wherever possible, the Scottish Government was trying to support the legislation in this area through, for example, its recently-launched cancer strategy document, ‘Better Cancer Care’. In this, the Government pledges to work with statutory agencies to further reduce occupational exposure to carcinogens.

According to the HSE, making reliable estimates of the cancer burden is “challenging, complex and time-consuming”. To address this problem, it has commissioned an independent exercise, led by Dr Lesley Rushton at Imperial College, London. A spokesperson explained: “This involves respected national and international experts to agree the methodology to be used and then apply it, in order to update our statistics on the current burden of occupational cancer and obtain a prediction of the future burden in light of current industrial practice.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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