Work Exposed To Cancer-Causing Agents Deserve Compensation
Contrary to workplace accidents, which can be quickly assess and compensate for, work related cancers can take many years or even decades. It is clear that some workers have been diagnose with cancer after being expose to asbestos in the past. This happened even before the connection between cancer and exposure was clear, as with early asbestos miners.
Modern occupational safety and health legislation in Australia has been in place since the 1970s. We gathered data from Safework Australia over the period of 12 years, to calculate the cost of cancer at work. Today’s report shows that 4,745 Australians paid compensation for cancer that was at least partially cause by occupational exposure. Over the twelve years, this amount was A$360 millions.
Two of the most expensive items were sun exposure and skin cancer. 53 percent of claims were related to Neoplasams, another term that refers to skin cancers of any kind. 15% of funds paid to people with skin cancers cause by outdoor work. Another was asbestos: About three-quarters (or A$360 million) of that amount has paid to mesothelioma patients.
These numbers seem huge until you consider that approximately 5,000 cancer cases per year (roughly 4,400 of which are men) result from occupational exposure. This means that less than 10% of cancer cases linked to work exposures are eligible for compensation.
Why Is There So Little Work Compensation?
There are clear causes for some cancers but not all. Mesothelioma is, for example, unambiguously linked to asbestos exposure. Lung cancer can be cause either by smoking or by exposures like silica at work, formaldehyde, asbestos, and second-hand smoke at home. There are likely to be two more cases of mesothelioma cause by asbestos. Workers who have been expose to cancer-causing agents in the workplace may not be eligible for compensation.
Sometimes occupational exposures can also occur outside of work, such as sunburns. However, compensation should be provide if the injury was work-relate. The PE teacher, who is also a surfer and cricketer, can still claim compensation for her squamous cells carcinoma. She has been a PE teacher for 15 years and she did not wear sunscreen or a hat.
When considering this issue, there are chemical exposures that are specific to certain industries. Some workplaces in Australia are expose to benzene, formaldehyde, and nitrosamines which are all known carcinogens.
Diesel is another example. A recent study found that almost 14% of Australians were expose to diesel exhaust. Nearly 2% were expose to high levels of diesel exhaust in their current jobs.
Truckie who spends 50 hours per week in the cabin, inhaling the exhaust from his own truck and the traffic around it, is increasing his risk of developing lung cancer. The underground miner who uses diesel-driven equipment to mine, especially in tight spaces, is also at risk.
Emission-reduction technology can help. Transport workers from the past should be aware that their previous exposure could contribute to future lung cancer. This risk is much greater than for routine commuters.
Plumbers, plumbers and metal workers who are exposed to lead and electricians who are exposed to cadmium as well as farmers and gardeners who are exposed to glyphosate should all be protected. It would be more beneficial to look for other substances that can perform the same function.
Prevention Of Work-Related Cancers
We’ve made steady progress in prevention. We’ve been talking about SunSmart for over 30 years and asbestos has been banned for many decades. In both cases, we’re not out of the woods.
There is no way to know how much asbestos exists in Australian homes and buildings, both public and private. Construction, maintenance, renovation, or refit workers lack confidence in the ability to identify asbestos. They don’t have a diagram that shows where it might be found in the work they do.
There are still many employers that have employees who work outdoors and do not have sun protection policies. We need a better way to find the cause and to compensate those who have been diagnosed with cancers.
We must improve working conditions for the future and present generations to reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents. Employers need to be aware of the risks in their industry. If that is not possible, they should find other ways to address the problem.
Others also have an important role to play. Regulators must keep up-to-date with the latest evidence regarding cancer-causing agents. It is a good idea to brush up your work history and record skills for doctors who diagnose cancer. Workers must also play their part in following safety and health procedures. We can prevent the worst form of cancer.