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May 23, 2014

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Occupational cancer: death rate shows no sign of waning


Dr Lesley Rushton, OBE

The latest statistics available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicate that about 8,000 cancer deaths and some 13,500 newly diagnosed cancer cases each year could be due to work-related exposures.

Furthermore, without action annual numbers of occupational cancers are forecast to remain at over 10,000 by 2060.

Occupational exposure accounts for about 5% of all cancers, making it one of the most important causes of cancer, after smoking and diet/alcohol consumption.

Yet for many of the known causal agents of occupational cancers, occupational exposure limits have been specified and are in place, as are highly effective occupational hygiene control measures.

However, the level of compliance with such exposure limits is low. For example, compliance in the case of workplace silica exposures is estimated at just 33%.

Some other key facts about work-related cancers include:

  • Currently, the leading cause of deaths from occupational cancer is past asbestos exposure.
  • Other major causes are crystalline silica dust, diesel exhaust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) found in tars, soot and other similar materials.
  • Activities and exposures associated with asbestos, silica dust, diesel exhaust and PAH alone account for almost 6,000 occupational cancers each year.
  • Each year, more than 2,000 cases of breast cancer in women are attributed to shift work that involves working at night or other unusual shift patterns that may disrupt the internal body clock.
  • The latest research shows we may, in future, see exposure to silica, diesel engine exhaust, solar radiation, shift work and painting/welding work continue to be some of the leading causes of occupational cancer.

Join myself and BOHS President, Mike Slater on the BOHS Worker Health Protection Arena at Safety and Health Expo, on Tuesday 17th June, to find out more about occupational cancer and about how occupational hygienists can help employers to control exposures in their workplaces to ensure the workers of today and tomorrow are being protected against this deadly disease.

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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Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace
10 years ago

At the risk of being controversial; can I cast some doubt upon these figures. How many of the people diagnosed with these “occupational cancers” are or were smokers? Diesel particulate Matter (DPM) is a known carginogen, but then exposure to polluted air is a problem across the UK, especially within cities and towns or if living near motorways etc. Much of our water, food and general life has various chemical cocktails within and we are exposed regularly. Obesity and poor diet is a known enhancer of cancer potential as well. If we strip out the asbestos related cancers, which are… Read more »