Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
August 24, 2010

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

No increased cancer risk for Scottish semiconductor workers

Follow-up research by the HSE into the incidence of cancer at a semi-conductor plant in Scotland has found that its workers are not at any increased risk of developing occupational disease. But a pressure group representing workers at the plant dismissed the Executive’s conclusion as “bogus”.

The independent investigation, carried out by the Executive with the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), concluded that concerns first investigated in 2001 at the National Semiconductors UK (NSUK) factory in Greenock were unfounded. Nine years ago, it was revealed that although the overall number of cancers in the workforce was not unusual, the possibility of there being a work-related cause for some of them could not be ruled out.

The new research updated the earlier study and found that the number of employees with cancers is within the range expected for a workforce of a similar age and background.

Products manufactured at Greenock include regulators, audio amplifiers, power-management integrated circuits, LED drivers, and automotive products for use mainly in the likes of PCs, mobile phones and games consoles, as well as industrial and automotive applications.

Concerns about occupational cancers at the plant first came to the HSE’s attention in late 1998, following action by workers’ support groups, media coverage and parliamentary activity. Consequently, the Executive investigated some 4500 existing and former employees and found that although the total number of cancer cases in men and women was about the same as expected, certain types were more prevalent in different groups.

For example, there were 11 cases of lung cancer in women – two to three times as many as expected – thus raising the possibility, said the HSE at the time, of a work-related cause. The rate of stomach cancer among women was four or five times as high as expected, and the rate of breast cancer around 1.3 times as high as expected. Among men, there were three deaths from brain cancer, which was about four times as many as expected.

The 2010 study looked in more detail at the work done by women with lung, breast and stomach cancer, and men with brain cancer. It failed to find any notable differences between work done by women with breast cancer and their colleagues; neither did it produce any important new results concerning work done by people with stomach and brain cancer.

However, the HSE was accused by NSUK workers’ representative group Phase Two of “playing down the evidence of its own study”, saying it did find real cancer excesses, such as 15 cases of lung cancer in women, rather than the 9.6 expected; 11 cases of colo-rectal cancer in men, rather than 5.9; and four cases of male breast cancer, where none was expected.

Said Phase Two spokesperson, Jim McCourt: “We know from the HSE report this year that the working environment in the sector is conducive to an increased cancer risk, as there is little ‘corporate oversight on health issues, and widespread law-breaking. The HSE should stop covering up for a deadly industry and should instead  demand and enforce improvements. This means reducing numbers of and exposures to carcinogens by a programme of toxics-use reduction, vigorous policing of health and safety standards, and rigorous enforcement of the law where breaches are observed.”

Co-author of the HSE report, Dr John Osman, the Executive’s chief medical advisor and head of epidemiology, said: “While we cannot use this type of research to prove that any workplace is completely safe, I am satisfied the findings do not indicate that NSUK staff face an increased risk of developing occupational cancer. The research does not establish a link between cancer and employment at NSUK.

“I hope both present and former employees will find some comfort in these results. They have waited patiently to discover the outcome of this research and I hope this report offers some clarity and reassurance.”

The HSE said there are no plans for further research at NSUK, although it will continue to monitor health and safety in the semiconductor manufacturing industry.

The research report is available on the HSE website at

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments