Cancer caused by work claims the lives of 666,000 people a year worldwide.
Hear Dr Lesley Rushton on work-related cancer in the UK, meet some of the people affected by carcinogenic exposures, and find out what IOSH is calling for as part of the No Time to Lose campaign.
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I was told that I had one of the worst types of cancer because, at the moment, there’s just no cure.
Once you get diagnosed with it, it’s for life. You’re always living in fear that it’s going to come back.
You’re living under a death sentence. I am 66 years old and I am dying.
These cancers are largely predictable and preventable, and they’re happening right now. They occur in industries across the board, like building and construction, manufacturing, transport, defence and agriculture.
Our research – it’s the most complete study of its kind in the world – we factored in other causes of death such as smoking, and our conclusion is that there is a clear connection between the jobs we do and the risks of developing cancer.
We believe that there is essentially no safe exposure to asbestos and for that reason it’s clearly a very dangerous carcinogen. When we look historically at the sorts of exposure that patients have had, for example, many can’t describe any definitive exposure through employment. Some, of course, will have it through employment. Some will have been exposed indirectly through others that have perhaps been employed, or downstream – perhaps in a factory, that sort of thing – where the asbestos could have been carried from the air, for example.
Mesothelioma I’d never heard of until I was diagnosed. And apparently I’ve picked this up through employment, as some 30 to 40 years ago, so I would be in my mid-20s, and I would have picked it up being an electrical engineer within factories. I felt healthy, apart from the breathlessness, and the surgeon told me I’d got an incurable disease and I’d got less than a year.
I was a school teacher, taught in a number of schools, and I was quite surprised, actually, because my surgeon said that there are quite a number of school teachers and architects who get mesothelioma. Nobody knows how I got it, but maybe pinning up notices on the notice board? I understand that notice boards were quite often made of asbestos.
When you get told something like you’ve got malignant melanoma, the very name is frightening in itself – ‘malignant’. My first excessive sun exposure happened when I served in the Merchant Navy and there was no awareness back then of protection. We weren’t taught about sun cream, we were basically left to your own design.
The risk from workplace cancers is more widespread than most people think. They’ve been cancers, some of them fatal, due to exposure to mineral oils, welding fumes, coal tars and pitches, and dioxins.
These are avoidable deaths. It’s a global campaign that we have; we‘re starting here in the UK with UK government, asking them to take note of issues around awareness and enforcement. We’re working together with businesses, based on the very latest research – we want them to be fully up to date with all issues surrounding exposures to occupational carcinogens. And we’re working with workers too – we want them to insist on protection and training. We need action and we need it now.