IOSH Northern Ireland health conference highlights occupational cancer

The importance of addressing work-related cancer risks in construction was highlighted during an occupational health conference staged in Northern Ireland.

26 October 2015

The Northern Ireland Branch of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) joined forces with Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) and BuildHealth to raise awareness of the issue and suggest potential solutions.

Exposure to asbestos, diesel engine exhaust emissions, solar radiation and silica dust have all been linked to cases of work-related cancer registrations and deaths among construction workers.

Richard McIvor, Chair of IOSH Northern Ireland Branch, said: “Around 200 people die in Northern Ireland each year as a result of occupational cancers, with roughly a third of cases the result of past exposure to asbestos.

“In many cases, the cancer diagnosis came years after the victim was exposed to a carcinogen at work.

“The majority of work-related cancers are preventable. By employers taking action now to manage their workers’ health as well as safety, it will seriously help to reduce the number of occupational cancer victims in the future.”

Around 120 people attended the seminar, which was held at the Dunsilly Hotel, Antrim, on 20 October.

HSENI Chief Executive Keith Morrison and BuildHealth Chairman Alastair Lambe were among key speakers at the event, which covered a variety of occupational health issues including health surveillance, reducing risks when working in the sun, silica dust level measurement on construction sites and cancer prevention.

IOSH also raised awareness of its No Time to Lose occupational cancer campaign which is highlighting the health issue and providing businesses with practical advice around prevention.

An IOSH-commissioned study recently found a lack of awareness of the risks of solar radiation in the construction industry.

Researchers discovered that two-thirds of construction workers who spent an average of nearly seven hours a day outside on the job thought they were not at risk, or were unsure if they were.

Nearly six out of ten of those surveyed also reported having developed sunburn – a major contributor to skin cancer – at least once in the last year.

Researchers reported a ‘macho culture’ in some parts of the industry and misconceptions about the threat of UV rays in climates like the UK’s.

The findings led IOSH to urge businesses to develop sun safety strategies that include elements such as regular updates on the UV index from weather forecasts, minimising sun exposure in the middle of the day and asking employees to wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers.

Around 300 people a year in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer. A further 3,000 cases of non-malignant melanoma are also diagnosed annually. 

Contact Tim Walsh, IOSH Media Manager

[email protected]
+44 (0)116 257 3252
+44 (0)797 660 4715