Workers Health & Safety Centre

Occupational cancer report calls for preventive action now

Occupational cancer report calls for preventive action now

Cancer is the biggest killer of workers in most countries, according to a recent report published by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).
“The need for further research cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing: with today’s solutions, most or all of such deaths and lost years of life can be eliminated,” writes Jukka Takala, former director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work who authored this report. “We can and should have a more ambitious target: to eliminate occupational cancer.”
The report, entitled Eliminating Occupational Cancer in Europe and Globally, offers insight into chemical agents, work practices and processes responsible for the cancer epidemic among workers. Specific examples cited include diesel engine exhaust, silica, second-hand smoke, exposures from welding and painting, mineral oils, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), endocrine disrupting chemicals and shift work. Particular attention is paid to asbestos—a leading cause of occupational cancer deaths in many countries, including Canada.  
Takala highlights the extent of worker suffering suggesting work exposures cause between 5.3 and 8.4 per cent of all cancer. Others have pegged it to be even higher ranging from eight to 16 of all cancer as work-related.
Using these percentages and death estimates from the Canadian Cancer Society, between 1500 and 4500 Ontarians will die in 2015 from work-related cancer. Global estimates suggest more than 660,000 workers will die as a result of occupational cancer.  
This report presents a renewed argument for stronger regulatory policy with a goal of eliminating occupational cancer on a global scale.  Examples of preventive policies and actions include:

  • launching an international programme on the elimination of occupational cancer following the World Health Organization (WHO) model of elimination of smallpox,
  • revising worker protection legislation, setting binding occupational exposure limits and ensuring enforcement,
  • banning the use of asbestos (still not banned in Canada), and
  • avoiding the exporting of cancer risks from developed to developing countries.

Others, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), are calling for similar preventive actions including adequate legislation to protect people against environmental and occupational carcinogens and other primary prevention initiatives.
Here in Ontario, many are calling for both new and stronger legislative and workplace preventive action. For instance, the need to amend the Toxics Reduction Act adding mandatory implementation of workplace toxics reduction plans and an obligation to involve worker representatives in the execution of such plans.
The WHSC also continues to play an important role in terms of raising occupational cancer awareness through a range of training and information services
Want to know how WHSC training and resources can assist your workplace in identifying, assessing and acting to prevent harmful exposures responsible for the cancer epidemic?
Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative
Want to read the full report Eliminating Occupational Cancer in Europe and Globally?

Want to read WHSC publications focused on occupational cancer and prevention?
Diesel engine exhaust
Chronic exposures to common chemicals increase cancer risk, study finds
Links between work and breast cancer
Highlights of a blueprint to a carcinogen-free economy
IARC report calls for urgent cancer prevention measures
Fact sheets including shift work, diesel engine exhaust, endocrine disruptors and solvents