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Work-related cancer; the next 47 seconds

By Mark Paterson
Senior Risk Manager

The ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign, recently launched by the Institution of Occupation Safety and Health (IOSH), aims to tackle the inordinately high number of occupation-related cancer deaths in the UK. It is sobering to read that there is one work-related cancer death every 47 seconds; probably the same amount of time it will take to read this blog.

Some industries are more susceptible than others, and certain working patterns have graver consequences.  The prevalence of harmful dust, such as silica or asbestos, and the use of hazardous materials put the construction sector in a high risk category.   There have been valiant efforts to improve on-site safety in the sector but it appears that threats to workers’ health have received less focus.  Last year, for every one accident-related fatality, 100 construction workers died from a work-related cancer.

Employers need to bring ‘health’ back into ‘health and safety’ in order to reduce this level of work related fatalities. The measures needed to minimise the risks are often relatively easy to implement and there is no reason why all UK employers, with a cancer related exposure, should not take due precautions.

Techniques to prevent occupational cancer vary depending on the industry, the type of exposure and the method of work used, however, following the  hierarchy of hazard control is an excellent place to start.

Eliminate – redesign the work so that the hazard is removed completely

Substitute – change the high-risk product to one that doesn’t produce a hazard e.g. replacing lead based paint with acrylic paint.

Engineering controls – install or use additional machinery, such as local exhaust ventilation, to control risks from dust or fumes. Order materials to size, to reduce the need for cutting on-site.

Administrative controls – identify and implement procedures to enable safe working e.g. use job rotation to reduce the time workers are exposed to hazardous substances, perform risk assessments, increase safety signage and provide awareness training.

Protective clothing and equipment – as a last resort and only to be considered after all previous measures have been exhausted. Ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is individually fitted and workers are trained in the function and limitation of each item of PPE.

The consequences of poor occupational health standards can be grievous.  By taking simple precautions, providing appropriate training and ensuring health and safety policies are consistently enforced, lives will be saved.  What employer doesn’t want that?

Further information and support to prevent occupational cancer can be found:

 First appeared in SHP online

Mark Paterson, Client Risk Manager, Casualty Risk Solutions