Work-related cancer claims 742,000 lives a year

One person dies every 43 seconds from work-related cancer, shocking new global research has revealed.

The terrible toll of occupational cancer was highlighted today, Monday 4 September, at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore.

Across the world, an estimated 742,000 people die annually from cancer which is linked to work activities – nearly double the number of deaths in workplace accidents.

Workers around the globe are exposed to dozens of cancer-causing carcinogens on a daily basis. Through its No Time to Lose campaign, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is highlighting some of the more common risks, which include diesel fumes, silica dust and asbestos. Exposure to the sun’s rays is also a major risk for outdoor workers.

The new research was carried out by the International Labour Organization, ministries in Finland and Singapore, the Workplace Safety and Health Institute in Singapore, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the International Commission on Occupational Health and the European Occupational Safety and Health Agency.

It was previously estimated that 666,000 people die every year from work-related cancer. The new figure is based on better available data gathered and analysed by the research consortium. They found that 2.78 million work-related deaths occur every year worldwide. Over 380,000 are fatal accidents, with 2.4 million the result of occupational diseases, including cancer.

Revealing the findings for the first time today, Dr Jukka Takala, from the Workplace Safety and Health Institute, said:

“It is tragic that so many people are losing their lives because of exposure to carcinogens at work. The total is far higher than those killed in workplace accidents.

“Now we have revealed these research findings, we need to look at how we can reduce this figure and save lives. There are many cost-effective ways that organisations can protect staff from exposure. Now is the time for action. People should be able to do their work without being put at risk.”

Since its launch in November 2014, more than 100 organisations have made a pledge to IOSH’s No Time to Lose drive, meaning they will look at reducing worker exposure to carcinogens. The campaign also has more than 200 supporting organisations.

Graham Parker, President of IOSH, said:

“The findings from this new research are truly shocking. It shows that 742,000 families are having to come to terms with the loss of a loved one through cancer caused by something they were exposed to at work.

“What makes it even more shocking is the fact that these deaths are preventable. By protecting workers from exposure to carcinogens, we can stop people from dying from this awful disease.

“We have been encouraged by the number of organisations which have supported or pledged to No Time to Lose, showing a real desire to protect their employees.

“But, clearly, more needs to be done. Whether you’re an employer or employee, industry body or policy-maker, safety and health professional or occupational hygienist, we all have a part to play if we want to call time on work-caused cancers. We can beat occupational cancer if we work together to control the exposure risks.”

No Time to Lose offers businesses free practical, original materials which can help them deliver effective prevention programmes. For more information, visit www.notimetolose.org.uk