World Cancer Day 2021

As IOSH marks World Cancer Day, 4 February, IOSH Vice-President Neil Catton draws from personal experience to highlight the impact of workplace cancer on family life.

Neil shares the story of his father, who was a builder and carpenter. When he died at the age of 80 he had been a husband for over 57 years; a father to four; and a grandfather to nine.

Neil explains that his father had been exposed to asbestos as a young worker, so in the last years of his life he had problems with asbestosis. And, because the builders at that time used to work with their hats off and their shirts off in the sun, in later life he had to have skin cancers cut out of his skin. It was a yearly occurrence.

He also had tinnitus, from using power tools without the proper protection – and a crumbling spine. For the last 25 years of his life he had a poor quality of life. He had illness, pain and constant suffering – all caused by his work.

His grandchildren never knew him without him suffering some illness. He couldn’t do the things granddads like to do – like playing football with the grandchildren or going for long walks. He simply couldn’t do them, all because of his work and exposure to carcinogens and other hazards at work.

Witnessing his father’s ill health was what motivated Neil to become a safety professional.

He sends a simple but powerful and heartfelt message to employers: “Look after your people, don’t damage their health through work.”

And to all workers: “Please do protect your health. You don’t know what you’re storing up in the long term and it will catch up with you.”

Life’s about time and quality of time, he says. “It’s not just about the incident or accident where somebody dies. If we deprive people of quality of life over a period of time, we’ve essentially done the same thing.”

On World Cancer Day, IOSH is encouraging members, businesses and individuals to help raise awareness of work-related cancers and its No Time to Lose campaign in several ways, including downloading and sharing its free resources on social media.

Find out more about World Cancer Day and get involved.