Health inequalities top of the work cancer agenda

Urgent action is required to protect workers from cancer risks at work, a major international conference has heard. “Workplaces are not merely spaces where people work – they are spaces where people live their lives.  Anything which would be prohibited on grounds of consumer health or environmental protection should also be prohibited in workplaces,” said Laurent Vogel, a researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).

His remarks came in a closing address to a November 2017  ‘Work and cancer’ conference in Brussels.  Conference papers have now been made available online.

A study into the costs of occupational cancers in the European Union, commissioned by the ETUI and carried out by a consultancy firm, revealed that the highest levels of exposure to carcinogens are still experienced by manual workers. Taking France as an example, 36 per cent of lung cancers, 10 per cent of bladder cancers and 10 per cent of pharyngeal cancers can be traced back to occupational exposure.

According to ETUI, cancers at these sites are frequently associated with exposure to the carcinogens most commonly encountered in construction and industrial settings, including asbestos, silica, hexavalent chromium, wood dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Commenting on the existing EU law on workplace carcinogens, ETUI added: “It is worth remembering that the Directive obliges employers to replace carcinogens, ‘as far as is technically possible’, by substances which are not dangerous or are less dangerous to health or safety.”

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