Occupational cancer is now the leading cause of compensated work-related deaths in Canada, surpassing those from accidents and injuries, according to new research published today in CMAJ Open.
An analysis of data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada from 1997 – 2010 to understand trends in financial compensation for deaths shows that lung cancer is the most commonly compensated workplace cancer. Compensation for occupational cancer deaths has increased steadily, with Ontario, the country’s largest province, accounting for half of all compensated deaths from workplace-related cancers. The top industries for compensation for occupational cancer were manufacturing, construction and mining, and in recent years, government services workers; however, this increase is mainly the result of changes in compensation for firefighters.
Exposure to asbestos was the top reason for accepted claims for work-related deaths, totalling 70% of all claims. In the study period, there has been a 216% increase in accepted claims for mesothelioma, a 575% increase in accepted claims for lung cancer and a 513% increase in accepted claims for other cancers.
“Exposure to asbestos has been a widespread concern for decades; however, it appears to no longer be on the radar of public health as a result of recent closures of the last remaining asbestos mines in Canada,” writes Ann Del Bianco with coauthor Paul A. Demers, Occupational Cancer Research Centre, York University, Toronto. “Nevertheless, occupational cancer may surface as many as 40 years postexposure and, once the disease process has begun, people no longer exposed continue to be at risk.”
“Cancer is known for its many causes and long latency period, and these characteristics pose serious challenges for people who seek compensation for an occupationally induced cancer. Occupational cancer is often unrecognized and underreported, claims for compensation go unfiled, and accepted claims represent only a small proportion of the overall burden.”
Research is under way at the Occupational Cancer Research Centre to estimate the burden of workplace-related cancer in Canada.
“By adopting a model in which physicians are more involved with the active surveillance of occupational cancers, and in which the current and projected burden of occupational cancer has been more systematically assessed, Canada can be in a position where efforts are aimed at eliminating or minimizing occupational exposures and preventing these cancers from occurring,” the authors conclude.
CMAJ Open – DOI:10.9778/20130015
Ann Del Bianco, PhD1,2, Paul A. Demers, PhD