All posts by Jawad

Study exposes failing UK cancer compensation scheme

UK workers suffering occupational cancer and other potentially lethal work-related diseases can forget about any government compensation, according to a new report by University of Stirling health researchers.

The report found the current compensation scheme excludes seven of the top ten entries on the official UK occupational cancer priorities ranking. Diesel exhaust or painting-related lung or bladder cancer are not on the prescribed disease list, nor is welding-related lung cancer. Skin cancer caused by solar radiation exposure, a known problem in outdoor workers and pilots, is also missing.

Women almost entirely miss out, with breast cancer caused by shiftwork – estimated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to affect around 2,000 women each year – omitted from the list of ‘prescribed’ industrial diseases for which Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) is payable.

Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the university’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, said: “The UK government’s workplace compensation scheme requires urgent reform. It is an unholy mess with only a tiny proportion of those made sick by their work in with a sniff of any compensation. The Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme excludes many conditions and those that are covered tend to be subject to claim-barring disability thresholds, minimum exposure times and job restrictions.”

Mean test, Hazards magazine, number 129, 2015.

Outrage at India’s ‘discredited’ asbestos push

Dozens of prestigious scientific organisations and scientists from around the world have called on India to end its ‘discredited’ efforts to keep chrysotile asbestos outside the scope of a United Nations treaty on toxic exports.

A study by India’s National Institute of Occupational Health is being used to support the Indian government’s argument, and concludes there is no evidence that chrysotile asbestos is harming workers in India. It is the key evidence submitted by India in its bid to block listing of the human carcinogen at the Rotterdam Convention conference in Geneva in May. The Convention does not ban products, but sets safety standards to promote responsible trade in hazardous substances.

“The study has no scientific credibility,” said Philip Landrigan, the president of the Collegium Ramazzini and a signatory to a statement sent to the Indian government calling for it to withdraw the paper. “It is flawed in the design, methodology and interpretation of the results.” Photos in the study show some workers wearing a cotton scarf tied around their face as their only “safety equipment”.

The study also shows workers weaving asbestos cloth. This is one of the most hazardous uses of asbestos. The statement notes that the conclusion of the study “is unacceptable to any credible scientists or scientific community. The world scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded that chrysotile asbestos causes deadly diseases, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung and other cancers, and that it cannot be safely used.”

It requests that the government of India “withdraw the NIOH study, which does not hold up to any credible scientific scrutiny and do the right thing by supporting the listing of chrysotile asbestos at the upcoming UN conference.” news release.  Study of health hazards/Environmental hazards resulting from use of chrysotile variety of Asbestos in the country, National Institute of Occupational Health (India). Rotterdam Convention. Risks 696.

Action on work cancers is decades overdue

More protective laws, effective enforcement and unrelenting union action are needed to address Europe’s ‘immense’ occupational cancer problem, a top safety researcher has warned.

Laurent Vogel from the Brussels-based trade union research body ETUI points to research showing that cancers induced by working conditions kill over 100,000 people in the European Union each year.

Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he said: “Cancers account for 53 per cent of work-related deaths compared to just 2 per cent for work accidents. Every one of these deaths can be prevented.” The union safety expert added: “To do away with workplace cancers, there must be a stronger framework of laws, more checks by health and safety inspectors, and no let-up in union action to get human life valued more than company profits.”

On 4 March 2015, German, Austrian, Belgian and Dutch labour ministers sent a joint letter to the European Commission calling for an urgent review of the Directive on exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at work and making specific proposals to strengthen the law.

TUC Stronger Unions blog, 12 March 2015. Risks 695.

Asbestos in schools report finally emerges

A long-delayed report into the presence of asbestos in schools was finally published on 12 March, after “sustained pressure” from education unions. Hundreds of teachers and other education staff have died of asbestos related diseases since 2003, the Department for Education report found.

Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum chair Doug Jewell said the report was “only one step on a long journey.” He said: “The findings of this review need to be built on and most importantly we need long term strategic policies that will eradicate asbestos from our schools.”

The publication of the review came days after the Asbestos in Schools campaign revealed its freedom of information requests had established up to 86 per cent of UK schools contain asbestos. The group estimated that between 200 and 300 people could die each year as a consequence of their asbestos exposure as a child at school in the 1960s and 1970s.

Department for Education asbestos review. NUT news release. GMB news release. IBAS news report. Asbestos Forum news release. Asbestos in Schools newsletter. Risks 695.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals ‘cost billions’ in Europe

Common industrial chemicals that disrupt human hormones and damage health could be costing Europe more than £110 billion a year, according to new research.

The international team behind the research presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrinology Society in Brussels. They said their estimates on the high economic impact of chemicals in products including pesticides, plastics and flame retardants were “conservative.”

The findings were published online on 5 March in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. EDCs have been implicated in the higher breast cancer rates found in workers in a range of industries including agriculture, plastics, food packaging, metal manufacture and the bar and gambling industries.

Endocrine Society website and news release. BBC News Online. Risks 694.
Leonardo Trasande, R Thomas Zoeller, Ulla Hass and others. Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, published online 5 March 2015.

UK court warning on prison passive smoking risks

Prison guards and inmates should be protected from passive smoking risks in communal prison areas, a High Court ruling indicates. The ruling was made after an inmate brought a case complaining about the health impact of secondhand smoke. The government had argued that as Crown premises, state prisons were exempt from smoke-free legislation.

Leigh Day news release. BBC News Online. Risks 694.

Asbestos cancers in Spain are not recorded or compensated

Almost all asbestos cancers are being missed by Spain’s official reporting system, a study has found, raising concerns that frequently terminally ill workers are also missing out on compensation.

A team headed by Alfredo Menéndez-Navarro of the University of Granada looked at the number of reported asbestos-related cancer cases between 1978 and 2011. These cancers were first officially recognised in Spain in 1978, a move that was expected to result in greater recognition and compensation payouts. But, according to the paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, only 164 cases of asbestos-related cancer were recognised in the 33-year period under scrutiny.

The researchers say this count misses almost all the cancers related to asbestos. For mesothelioma, they estimate 93.6 per cent of cases in men and 99.7 per cent in women are missing. For asbestos related lung cancers, the effect is worse still, with 98.8 per cent of bronchial and lung cancers in men and 100 per cent in women going unrecognised.

The authors conclude it is essential to establish a system for information on and monitoring of asbestos-related cancers – identified as mesothelioma, cancers of the larynx, lungs or ovaries – to ensure for the victims the compensation to which they are entitled. They note the number of people affected in Spain is expected to increase in the coming years.

“These findings provide evidence of gross under-recognition of asbestos-related occupational cancers in Spain,” the paper notes. “Future work should investigate cases treated in the National Healthcare System to better establish the impact of asbestos on health in Spain.”

García-Gómez M, Menéndez-Navarro A, López RC. Asbestos-related occupational cancers compensated under the Spanish National Insurance System, 1978-2011, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH), volume 21, number 1, pages 31-39, January-March 2015. Eurogip. Risks 693.

IIAC refuses to recognise two asbestos cancers

The body that advises the UK government on additions to the ‘prescribed industrial disease’ list has said cancers of the larynx or ovary linked to asbestos exposure should not be added to the list.

The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) reviewed the evidence for prescription – including a condition on the list eligible for government Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit payments – after a request from the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum. This was prompted by the publication in 2012 of an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monograph that concluded “there is sufficient evidence in humans that asbestos causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary.” Lung cancer and mesothelioma related to asbestos are already recognised for payouts, but cancers of the larynx and ovary are not.

Declining to add cancer of the larynx caused by asbestos to the list, IIAC noted “that the evidence of a doubling of risk of laryngeal cancer associated with asbestos exposure remains inconsistent.” For cancer of the ovary, IIAC “concluded that exposures to asbestos probably increase the risk of ovarian cancer and may do so by more than two-fold if very high.” It said however the exposure level causing a doubling of risks is difficult to define so IIAC “does not therefore recommend prescription for cancer of the ovary in relation to asbestos exposure.”

Critics of the IIAC system say the doubling of risk criteria it uses rules out most occupational cancers and is an arbitrary rule that sets an unfair benchmark not required by the regulations governing IIAC’s operation. Cancer of the larynx caused by asbestos is already recognised for state compensation payouts in countries including Germany, France, Denmark and Italy.

IIAC summary and Cancers of the larynx or ovary and work with asbestos: IIAC information note, February 2015. IARC Monograph 100C, 2012. Risks 692.

UK government plugs mesothelioma payouts hole

Sufferers of an asbestos-related cancer will in the future receive extra payouts after the government revised its mesothelioma compensation rules. Under new rules for the government’s Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme compensation will rise to match 100 per cent of average civil claims, up from the current 80 per cent.

Adrian Budgen of personal injury law firm Irwin Mitchell said the change left other flaws in the scheme untouched. He said: “The increase in payments should of course be welcomed but it is disappointing that it isn’t retrospective. It is also disappointing that mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed before 25 July 2012, who would otherwise have been eligible for a payment, were excluded from the outset. The scheme has a number of inadequacies but, for those people who have received payments to date, it has afforded them some financial security.”

DWP news release and ministerial written statement. Risks 690.

Don’t neglect work causes of cancer

There must be a far greater acknowledgement of the role of work in causing cancers, the UK Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection (BOHS) has warned. Commenting on World Cancer Day – 4 February –  BOHS said that neglecting to understand and control occupational exposures to carcinogens, by means of highly effective occupational hygiene solutions, threatens future progress in the battle against the disease.

It added that it was “concerned that, all too often, the work-related causes of cancer fail to be properly acknowledged and are overlooked in the media and other sources of information about cancer.” Simple and cost-effective solutions could “eliminate” workplace risks, it said.

BOHS news release. World Cancer Day. Global unions zero cancer campaign. Risks 690.