HSE’s dithering, denial and delay on workplace cancer is deadly!

 Press Release for immediate use 21st August 2012 

HSE’s dithering, denial and delay on workplace cancer is deadly!

Workers enquiry needed to identify and eliminate all exposures to carcinogens.

The Hazards Campaign says the HSE intervention paper on occupational cancer to be presented to the HSE Board meeting on 22nd August in Bootle, while more detailed than the original rejected paper, “fails to acknowledge the actual scale of cancer caused by work(1). The paper is based on a fairy tale unrealistic view of the world of work today, ignores many known carcinogens, shows little interest in finding unknown exposures, underestimates the numbers of workers exposed and shows no sense of urgency to tackle this massive but preventable workplace epidemic. Because of the lack of action now, more people will develop occupational cancers and die from them in the future. 

Hazards Spokesperson says:

“Rushton estimates that work cancer kills 8,000 (5% of all cancers) or at least seven times as many workers as are killed by work injuries every year, and affects a further 14,000.  Hazards estimates, based on work by international cancer specialists, place the toil even higher at 12% of all cancers.  That is 18,000 deaths and over 30,000 cases of cancers related to work each year in GB (2).

Occupational cancer researcher Simon Pickvance warns: “The HSE has been in denial about work cancer for over three decades, depending far too heavily on epidemiology which is only capable of seeing widespread, long-established problems amongst large numbers of workers, employed for long periods of time, in large workplaces such as mines, mills and manufacturing. This is totally unsuitable for today’s, smaller and fast evolving workplaces with more complex, and diverse exposures.  It is incapable of picking up high risk exposures affecting smaller groups of workers.  We welcome HSE’s response to the detection of hazardous exposure to azo dyes in the engineering industry by members of Hazards Campaign, but this is just one of many such high risk groups that can be identified using mass participatory methods of relating workers’ exposures to case reports.  A fully participatory approach towards identifying exposure scenarios and methods for toxic use reduction must be the way forward. The Rushton estimates for the HSE continue to under count the number of workers exposed. On  diesel fumes exposure alone, it is simply incomprehensible that the well over a million workers who have a raised risk of a cancer because they work in diesel-exposed jobs become ‘over 10,000’ in HSE’s estimation – and a million is just a fraction of the total diesel-exposed workforce”.

Simon goes on to explain: “The HSE’s target organ approach is also very damaging as most carcinogens have a very broad spectrum but epidemiology is not clever enough to see it.  Real life workers’ bodies do not play by epidemiologists rules so that even quite large increases in common cancers are entirely and irretrievably invisible to traditional epidemiological number-crunching (3)  

The Hazards Campaign joins occupational cancer campaigners in demanding a workers inquiry to identify all workplace exposure to carcinogens and urgent action to enforce their elimination;  a spokesperson said: “We need proactive enforcement of existing legislation (4), and in the absence of reliable figures on numbers of people exposed (the underestimation of diesel-exposed workers is only the latest in a series of HSE blunders in calculating exposed populations) the over-dependence on the Rushton burden calculation (how much cancer is work-related ?),in setting priorities for action must stop.
Helen Lynn spokesperson for the Alliance for Cancer Prevention said: “The HSE approach to occupational cancer ensures thousands more people will develop the disease through exposures at work. Delaying action on better shift work patterns is just condemning more women to greater risk of breast cancer while there is action that could be taken immediately. Although the word ‘action’ is mention exclusively by the HSE in relation to naturally occurring carcinogens such as radon, there is no action on promoting substitution to known or suspected carcinogens when there are safer alternatives available as applies to the chemicals used in dry cleaning. The HSE scope for carcinogens should be widened to include all carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic chemicals and substances (CMR’s), and encompass those not only addressed in REACH but also listed on the SIN list” (5)

Campaigners argue that the response outlined in the HSE paper is based on a combination of dithering, denial, and delay. Their ‘wait and see’ approach and leaving the job up to other agencies, while they continue to do a little bit more of what is currently ineffective, is completely inadequate to the task of preventing work related cancers.

Simon Pickvance concludes:  “We are sick to death of being treated as second class workers in Europe, who can wait for preventative action till research is carried out, for example on shiftwork, when other member states have adopted a precautionary, pro active approach.  It is not more science that is required before more humane shift patterns can be introduced. HSE’s intervention strategy is based on ignorance, denial and a false view of work today, and its response to the biggest workplace killer is utterly pathetic. It is hard to see what will be achieved by more of the same without the active involvement of workers themselves in finding out where the main problems lie. What is needed is a picture of the risks we face in the jobs we do today via a Trade Union backed workers inquiry (6) to identify all workplace cancer exposures. Plus a massive preventive proactive enforcement of elimination, and an abandonment of the use of cost-benefit analysis in setting exposure limit for carcinogens in EU, as there are no safe levels of exposure to carcinogens”

For more information:

Graphic: http://www.hazards.org/images/h117cover1200px.jpg

Simon Pickvance Tel: 0114 268 4197

Hilda Palmer, Hazards Campaign  Tel: 0161 636 7557

Helen Lynn, Alliance for Cancer Prevention: Tel: 0207 274 2577, mobile 07960033687

Note for editors:

1. HSE supplementary paper on occupation cancer: Occupational cancer, priorities for future intervention – supplementary paper’  The initial paper was rejected by the HSE board in May 2012.

2. Hazards Magazine cancer pages: see Burying the evidence

3. This Man Knows all about Cancer:

Details Simon Pickvance’s criticisms of the HSE strategy on work-related cancer.   His criticism of the HSE supplementary paper include:
Silica Dust – No evidence for the HSE technical innovations on control.
Welding and Painting – no active involvement of workers in finding where the main problems lie.
Shift work – no action on safer working patterns only a call for yet more research.
Dry cleaning – no interventions on safer substitutes, only low cost ‘awareness raising initiatives’.
Epidemiology – focus from HSE is on widespread, long established problems while ignoring high risk exposures affecting smaller groups of workers.
Lack of participatory approach to risk detection – HSE fails to engage workers in identifying risk in their work places.
Lack of Toxic Use reduction methods – HSE ignores reducing exposure to existing and known carcinogens and setting targets for elimination.

4.COSHH- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

5. Alliance for Cancer Prevention 

6. Workers Inquiry : The inquiry should be trade union backed, and involve workers in mounting an all-out search for carcinogens at work.  It must identify high risk groups within occupations/workplaces; and look at case studies, industrial hygiene and toxicological studies.  What is needed is a true picture of the risks we face in the jobs we do today, not something based on an out of date, fairytale world of work.