Australian employers urged to join fight against work-related cancers “tragedy”

Businesses across Australia can “save lives” using free guidance on preventing exposure to asbestos, the sun and other cancer-causing carcinogens found in workplaces.

The National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA) Foundation is joining forces with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to inspire, educate, inform and engage employers on how they can protect workers from work-related carcinogens.

Free resources, produced by IOSH for its No Time to Lose occupational cancer campaign and updated with new figures for Australia, can be used by businesses to help them ensure people aren’t exposed to four of the most lethal materials, substances and agents.

As well as asbestos and the sun (solar radiation), they are silica dust and diesel engine exhaust fumes. Cancer caused by work claims 742,000 lives around the world every year. Asbestos is responsible for more deaths than any other carcinogen, killing over 100,000.

Australia and New Zealand have the world’s highest incidence of skin cancers with many melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers being linked to workplace exposure every year.

Australia also has the world’s second-highest proportion of cases of mesothelioma, a terminal cancer caused by asbestos exposure, with 732 new cases diagnosed in 2014, according to the most recent statistics. While asbestos has been banned in Australia since 2003, many buildings such as offices, factories, hospitals and schools, which were constructed before this time still contain it.

Last week, it was reported that Matthew Werfel, of Adelaide, won a $3 million compensation case against former asbestos manufacturer James Hardie after he developed a rare form of mesothelioma in 2017. He had been exposed to asbestos while pulling down fences and renovating two homes in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The NSCA Foundation has already begun sharing the new resources with its stakeholder networks across the country.

Jamie Burrage, Chief Executive of the National Safety Council of Australia Foundation, said: “Occupational cancers are significant and preventable hazards in Australia and the NSCA Foundation is committed to helping our members tackle these. It’s a burden that can be tackled through good health and safety practice and aligns very well with our mission “to inspire, educate, inform and engage Australian business in staying up-to-date with best practice Work Health and Safety”.

“NSCA Foundation Chairman Bernie Doyle and I saw the No Time to Lose campaign presented at the APOSHO 33 conference in Hong Kong last December. The messages and resources were impressive, had great visual impact and were useful and practical.

“We met with IOSH’s President Professor Vincent Ho and decided to offer our magazine, newsletters, events and annual safety conference and Awards of Excellence to promote the No Time to Lose campaign. The new dual-branded resources created with the IOSH campaigns team will benefit our members and stakeholders and protect Australian workers.”

At the annual safety conference, being held from 28-29 August at the SAFETYconnect 2019 expo in Melbourne, IOSH President Professor Vincent Ho will address delegates, highlighting the campaign and resources.

He said: “The biggest tragedy is that these cancers are all preventable. With good management, exposures to harmful carcinogens can be prevented and many lives saved.

“We are delighted the NSCA Foundation is supporting our campaign and look forward to working with them to spread the word in Australia. No Time to Lose provides materials to help managers and workers do just that.

“Businesses across Australia now have the opportunity to access them and make a difference. This really can be a watershed moment in preventing cancer cases – and saving lives – in Australia.”

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You can join a free NSCA Foundation webinar with Duncan Spencer, Head of Advice and Practice at IOSH, about The No Time to Lose campaign: tackling occupational cancer together on Thursday 15 August at 6am British Summer Time / 3pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. Register here.