Cancer campaign by UK firefighters’ union FBU takes off

A campaign by firefighters’ union FBU to reduce the risk of occupational cancer linked to exposure to fire contaminants is having an impact “in every corner of the fire and rescue service”, the union has said.

FBU said it is now pushing hard “to build up the Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry. The registry is based on a health survey for firefighters, and we need all firefighters– to fill it out.” It added: “With more information in the registry we will be able to get more life-saving research done.”

FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said: “We need every single firefighter to fill out that registry, whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, whether you’ve been diagnosed with a disease or if you’ve never been diagnosed with anything – we need you to fill out that registry now. There is so much more we need to understand about the link between cancer and other diseases and the occupation of firefighting.”

He added: “We cannot protect ourselves from this danger if we don’t properly understand it and we simply cannot do that unless firefighters fill out that registry.” FBU officials have been visiting fire stations to promote awareness of and sign-ups to the cancer and disease registry.

Commenting on the growing reach of the union’s related DECON campaign to reduce firefighter exposures to toxins, la Torre said: “We’re so pleased with how this project has taken off since we launched it live from a fire station. We’ve seen engagement in every corner of the fire and rescue service, we’ve seen posters going up, we’re seeing tweets, we’ve seen people with their babies wearing DECON stickers, and the training is being taken. We’re getting requests for more information and more posters all of the time.”

FBU DECON campaign and cancer campaign video.


Work cancer action could save thousands a year in Australia

Over one in ten (14 per cent) cases of lung cancer in Australia could be prevented if asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fume exposure were reduced in workplaces, according to the country’s national union federation ACTU. It says the figure, based on best available data, corresponds to roughly 1,800 work-related deaths every year from lung cancer that could have been avoided with better safety measures.

The ACTU is calling upon the federal government to take urgent action, including implementing recommendations made by a National Dust Diseases Taskforce. It adds there must be adequate workplace exposure standards introduced for all hazardous substances, including silica, diesel exhaust and welding fumes, to avoid more preventable deaths from lung disease.

ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “This fight won’t be over until all Australian workers can go to work and know they’re going to be safe from disease.” He added: “There is a plague of silicosis and cancers in workers who’ve come into contact with silica in their workplace. This risks becoming the asbestos of our generation, and we must act to prevent huge numbers of workers becoming sick and dying now.

“Until we have an adequate, fit-for-purpose workplace exposure standard for these dangerous substances, we’re going to continue to see deaths from lung disease caused by work exposure.”

Time to get tough on asbestos, says IOSH

Stronger measures on asbestos management are needed to save lives, according to the global body for health and safety professionals. A lack of consistency in managing asbestos among duty holders and a lack of awareness and knowledge about the material, particularly among smaller businesses, are among the issues concerning the UK-based Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

IOSH has highlighted those concerns in a verbal and written submission to the UK Work and Pensions Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approach to asbestos management. It said although the regulations have been around in the UK for some time, the “full implementation and application” of them is lacking through the responsibility chain, which is putting lives at risk. “Awareness is not reaching down to those who are fulfilling those roles, coming into contact with the hazard and those who are placed at risk.” IOSH said.

The safety professionals’ body is keen to see stronger measures introduced, with a collective effort by policy makers, government, regulators, employers and worker representatives.

“We know that asbestos is still all around us. This, coupled with a worrying lack of awareness about the danger it poses and how to prevent exposure, means people are being put at risk every day,” IOSH head of health and safety Ruth Wilkinson said. “This is simply not good enough. There are many measures which can be taken to prevent exposure and we would like to see a collective effort to ensure that these are put in place and used across industry. Only by doing this can we begin to stop people being exposed to asbestos and being placed at risk of contracting an awful disease. It’s time to get tough with asbestos.”


Firefighters urged to protect themselves from toxics

Firefighters in the UK have been urged by their union to protect themselves from toxic fire contaminants. The firefighters’ union FBU said a study found rates of cancer in firefighters were more than four times higher than in the general public.

The research by the University of Central Lancashire involved 10,000 serving firefighters. FBU’s response – a new DECON training and guidance programme – encourages firefighters to take actions before, during and after every fire incident to help reduce their own, their co-workers’ and their families’ exposure to fire contaminants.

Firefighters are also being encouraged to fill in a University of Central Lancashire firefighter cancer and disease registry. FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said: “In the past, firefighters have been let down by a lack of information and a lax safety culture being allowed to prevail. DECON guidance and training helps firefighters protect themselves through simple actions like better cleaning of gear and making sure to always wear breathing apparatus when it’s needed, never putting it on too late.”

He added: “We would urge every firefighter to have a look at the guidance and contact their local Fire Brigades Union representatives about the training. The University of Central Lancashire Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry will also help save firefighter lives by pushing forward research in this area, so it’s vital that firefighters play their part here too and fill it in.”

DECON training and guidance. Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry.

Campaigners inflict major blow on asbestos trade in Asia as investment bank acts

After many years of campaigning, the global ban asbestos campaign has chalked up a major win as a major funder of infrastructure work said no to the fatal fibre.

The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has amended its Environmental and Social Framework to exclude asbestos containing materials from AIIB-financed projects. The bank has an annual spend of US$3.3 billion on infrastructure across Asia.

The campaign to eliminate asbestos related diseases by global and national trade unions and asbestos ban groups and victims has been targeting multilateral banks for many years, including AIIB, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank Group.

The AIIB has now published the updated exclusion policy which now includes the “production of, trade in, or use of asbestos fibres, whether or not bonded”.

The ‘Not Here Not Anywhere’ asbestos campaign is now seeking the same urgent exclusion by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).  Phillip Hazelton, coordinator of the Australian union backed global justice group APHEDA, commented: “This is an overdue but an important step by the AIIB. We call on all multilateral investment banks and international financial institutions to quickly do the same and exclude asbestos containing materials from any investments they support.”

Apolinar Tolentino Jr, the Asia-Pacific regional representative of the global construction union BWI, added: “We expect the ADB to follow suit to this long awaited policy to ensure that working families and their communities are not exposed to this highly dangerous industrial substance.”


UK unions press case for school asbestos removal

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) has launched a new campaigning website to press the case for the removal of asbestos from UK schools.

Announcing the initiative on 17 June – Clean Air Day 2021 – JUAC said latest UK government Department for Education (DfE) figures estimate 83.5 per cent of schools in England contain asbestos. It noted official ONS figures show that since 2001 at least 305 teaching and education professionals have died from the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma.

JUAC is calling for an independent review of the government’s current policy of managing asbestos in-situ instead of removing it. The campaign is also pressing for funded programme for the phased removal of all asbestos, starting with the most dangerous, with completion no later than 2028. It also wants the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to undertake proactive inspections to ensure that educational establishments are managing asbestos effectively.

John McClean, chair of JUAC, said: “The continuing presence of asbestos in so many of our schools is a disgrace, when the risks to children and adults are so well known. Effective government action to tackle this is long overdue. A phased programme of removal, starting with the most dangerous first, is the only way forward.”

The national trade unions that form JUAC are ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON, Unite, UCU and Voice.


Fears about hidden toll from deadly silica

Workers at risk of developing an incurable, progressive and fatal lung disease caused by silica dust need greater protections across a range of workplaces, Australian unions have warned. The warning comes after a spate of cases of the lung-scarring disease silicosis affecting young workers.

The disease can progress even after exposure has ended, and is also linked to lung cancer and kidney damage and other diseases.

Joanna McNeill, a 34-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed with silicosis last year after returning from maternity leave. She worked in an administrative role at a quarry and was exposed to dust as her office close to the main blast site. “At the moment I am feeling healthy, but I don’t know if that will be the case in one year, let alone five or 10 years and as a mum of two young daughters that terrifies me,” she said.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) is leading a push for tougher national regulations to protect all workers exposed to deadly silica dust, with fears Australia could be hit with a “tsunami” of deaths in the coming decades. AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said preliminary reforms recommended by the country’s National Dust Disease Taskforce would only provide extra protection for stonemasons, leaving the construction industry, miners, quarry workers and tunnellers “out in the cold”.

He said the federal government must not “tinker around the edges” or compromise the health and safety of Australian workers. “It’s an outrage that a country like Mexico has stricter laws in relation to workplace silica dust exposure than Australia,” he said.

The UK exposure standard is more lax still.

Sydney Morning Herald.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³. More on work-related dust diseases.


Union launches UK firefighter cancer and disease registry

UK firefighters’ union FBU has launched a new nationwide database to assess the potential link between exposure to fire toxicants and the increased occurrence of cancers and other diseases among firefighters.

The union, which has developed the registry with researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), is calling on every current and former UK firefighter suffering from a serious or chronic illness to add their name to the registry, a move it says will help save firefighters’ lives in the future.

The UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry (FCDR) will collect information on firefighters’ work routines, exposure to fire effluents, lifestyle and health. The FBU says this will “enable scientists to identify and recognise most common cancers and diseases related to firefighters’ work, and, in the future, offer preventive health screening, education and support that is specifically designed to protect firefighter’s health.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Every current and former firefighter who has suffered a serious or chronic illness needs to add their name to this register so we can further expose the shocking numbers of firefighters suffering from cancer and other diseases.”

Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at UCLan, said: “The UK’s National Cancer Registry and Analysis Service is currently not able to provide any reliable data on cancer incidence or mortality amongst firefighters. Setting up the UK Firefighters Cancer and Disease Registry will enable us to identify and keep track of all firefighters who have been diagnosed with the diseases and cancers, as well as identify any association between firefighter’s occupation and exposure to fire carcinogens.”

The register covers cancers, nervous, circulatory and respiratory diseases, liver and kidney disorders and ‘other’ ailments potentially related to work.

Report calls for urgent action on firefighter cancers

Firefighters risk their lives to save ours. But work-related cancers caused by routine toxic exposures, both at incidents and in training, could be a far bigger risk to their health, warns a report in Hazards magazine.

Sid McNally joined Essex County Fire and Rescue Service in southern England in January 1995. In 2012, when he was 48, his wife noticed a lump on his neck and insisted he go to his GP, who referred him to the hospital. The hospital took a biopsy of his neck and decided to remove the lump.

After surgery, Sid was diagnosed with cancer of the base of the tongue. The consultant asked how many cigarettes he smoked per day. He had never smoked.

Sid recovered. But not all are so lucky, and the cancer risk faced by firefighters is worryingly high. This is the conclusion of a University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) independent report, commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and described as a ‘UK first’.

UCLan’s report includes a summary of over 10,000 responses to a national survey of currently-serving firefighters run jointly with FBU. It indicates working firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at four times the expected rate, with 4.1 per cent of firefighter respondents affected. Threequarters had served for at least 10 years before receiving their diagnosis; more than half were under the age of 50 and a fifth were under 40.

Commenting on its findings, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters risk their lives every day to keep their communities safe. But it’s clear that the risk to their health doesn’t stop when the fire has been extinguished. Sadly we often see serving and former firefighters suffer from cancer and other illnesses.”

Full story: Smoking gun: Report calls for urgent action on firefighter cancers, Hazards magazine, December 2020.



Japan’s government must compensate site asbestos victims, says country’s top court

Japan’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay more than 22 million dollars (£16.2m) in compensation to former construction workers who developed lung diseases caused by asbestos.

The ruling is the first holding the government responsible in lawsuits filed by former construction workers and bereaved families. The plaintiffs say former workers developed lung cancer and other illnesses after inhaling asbestos at construction sites. They have demanded that the state and manufacturers of the materials pay damages.

The award to a group of about 350 workers was first made by a court two years go. The Supreme Court rejected the government’s appeal in December. The ruling also acknowledged the government’s responsibility for health problems developed by self-employed construction workers, but dismissed a call for the compensation to be increased.

An appeal by the former construction workers regarding a Tokyo High Court ruling that asbestos product manufacturers were not liable will be heard on 25 February 2021.

Asahi Shimbun. NHK World.

A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).