Safeguarding against occupational cancer

Occupational cancer is nothing new. History books report occurrences of
occupational cancer as far back as 200 years ago. There are mentions of
increased scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps, lung cancer in miners, and bladder
cancer in dye workers. Over the past two centuries, there have been numerous
such reports of "cluster cases" that linked cancer to specific times, places or
occupations - some conclusively, some not.

Research has identified a number of other groups of workers at increased risk
for cancer because of occupational exposures. This research is necessary not
only to ensure a safe work environment, but also to identify environmental
factors that may cause cancer in the general population.

A listing of occupational factors that may cause human cancer can be found in a
series of monographs published by the International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC). Since 1971, IARC, a World Health Organization agency
headquartered in France, has published more than 85 volumes dealing with cancer
risks from individual chemicals, and mixtures of chemicals, in selected
occupations or industries. Of the more than 900 chemicals, groups of chemicals,
industrial processes, occupational exposures and cultural habits that have been
evaluated to date, IARC has identified 95 that are known to cause cancer in
humans, as well as a further 66 considered probably carcinogenic to humans.

Among the industrial processes and occupational exposures that IARC lists as
cancer causing are:

  • Aluminium production
  • Manufacture of Auramine
  • Boot and shoe manufacture and repair
  • Coke production
  • Furniture and cabinet making
  • Haematite mining (underground) with exposure to radon
  • Involuntary smoking
  • Iron and steel founding

What can be done?

Experts agree on one thing - there is no known safe level for carcinogens. If
progress is to be made in controlling occupational cancers, preventive efforts
must be concentrated on reducing the exposures of these workers.

Occupational cancers are preventable, especially where substances used in the
workplace are known carcinogens. Wherever possible, the carcinogen should be
replaced with a less toxic material, and at the very least, through engineering
and process controls in the workplace, exposures to carcinogens should be
reduced to the lowest possible level. In the event this cannot be done
satisfactorily, appropriate personal protective equipment should be used.
Finally, steps should be taken to ensure that carcinogenic material is not
discharged unchecked into the environment or brought home by workers on their
clothing or through other means.

Workers have a right to know when they are working with carcinogens and must be
told what to do to protect their health. In the fight against occupational
cancer, caution is the best defense. With increased awareness, it is hoped that
workplace policy and legislation will emerge to lead to new practices that will
safeguard the workers of today and the future.

Further information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety