According to conservative estimates, some 8,000 people die from cancer and around 14,000 contract the disease each year in the UK because of exposure to a work-related carcinogen, such as diesel exhaust fumes, silica dust or asbestos fibres. Worldwide, occupational cancer claims the lives of more than 666,000 a year – one death every 47 seconds.
The figures far outstrip those for fatal incidents in the workplace, but the invisibility of carcinogens, the long latency of their effects and a lack of knowledge continue to produce this staggeringly high number of preventable deaths and cancer registrations.
Led by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and backed by business leaders, academics and charity Macmillan Cancer Support, the No Time to Lose campaign will call for a collaboration of government and employers “to beat occupational cancer”.
A national database of work-related carcinogen exposure, more research into the potential cancer risks of new technologies, a greater focus on work cancer in medical courses and awareness training for apprentices are all part of the call to action.
IOSH, the world’s largest professional organisation in occupational safety and health, will also publish new guidance today for employers to help them identify and deal with cancer risks. And the Chartered body wants businesses to sign a pledge demonstrating their commitment to controlling carcinogenic exposures in their workplaces.
IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones said: “We need a concerted joint effort to educate and protect future generations from work-related cancer. Simple actions today will save lives tomorrow – there really is no time to lose in tackling this global tragedy.”
Findings of a survey of its members by IOSH found 80 per cent of respondents felt industry was doing too little to tackle occupational health issues, due to a lack of awareness and resources.
Dr Lesley Rushton, of Imperial College London, is lead researcher behind the most recent study into the UK’s work cancer burden. She said: “There’s no excuse for young people entering into work today and being exposed to carcinogens. And we need innovative ways to get key messages to the self-employed and those working in smaller businesses.
“If we don’t do something now, we are going to have thousands of occupational cancers annually, but if we take action now we can beat occupational cancer.
“We know there are problems with exhaust fumes and shift work, sun exposure is a problem. We know what the problems are, and we know how to reduce the risks. Now, we just need action.”
For more information about the campaign, the House of Commons launch, and the No Time to Lose call to action, visit http://www.notimetolose.org.uk.