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3.6 million Australians 'exposed' to workplace carcinogens

27 December, 2013

Australian researchers have found that a staggering 40 per cent of workers are exposed to cancer-causing agents in their current jobs, with men at higher risk than women.

The study revealed that the 3.6 million Australian workers most likely to be exposed to carcinogens lived in regional areas and often included men and women working in farming, mining and transport.

Unlike lifestyle cancer risks such as alcohol and diet, people don't have a choice about exposure to carcinogens in their workplace, with the top four occupational cancer risks being sun exposure, diesel engine exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke and the solvent benzene.

Professor Lin Fritschi, from The University of Western Australia and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth (formerly the WA Institute for Medical Research), said the results were shocking.

"These figures are higher than ever before because we questioned workers from small and medium enterprises including people who are self-employed," she said.

"In the past the only data available came from big organisations with resources such as Occupational Health and Safety staff to conduct surveys."

Carcinogens such as UV exposure tended to affect farmers, painters and metal workers. Farmers were also at a higher cancer risk from diesel engine exhaust, as were heavy vehicle drivers and miners.

Environmental tobacco smoke was a danger for hospitality workers, but also painters and plumbers who included the group "smoko" in their work routine, even if they didn't smoke themselves.

"This study allows us to pinpoint where there are cancer risks, such as workers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke during the daily 'smoko'," Professor Fritschi said.

"There is legislation in place to prevent smoking in the workplace but at the moment this is often not enforced."

The collaboration by The University of Western Australia and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research as well as Sydney and Monash Universities, was based on a random sample of 5023 Australian workers aged between 18 and 65.

Telephone interviews were conducted using a web-based application, OccIDEAS, in which participants were asked about their job tasks and pre-defined algorithms automatically assigned exposure to each person. OccIDEAS includes questionnaires specifically written for 58 different occupations.

"I've already had contact from researchers in Singapore and the UK who may want to follow this model in their own countries," Professor Fritschi said.

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Brian Rogers | Friday, December 27, 2013, 5:35 PM
Adding the Bi-tron Treatments to the Diesel & Petrol Fuels helps the engine burn the fuels to a degree that there is almost NO exhaust emissions escaping from the exhaust pipe. I've been helping farmers, predominantly, plus others, for 17 years to reduce these exhaust emission pollution.
Ricos | Friday, January 17, 2014, 4:57 PM
I worked for 4 years with synthetic hydraulic oil only to be told it causes testicular cancer, now have a persistant rash on my upper bdoy that refuses to die. we were told to wear sugical gloves when working with it but it seemed pointless as the stuff would atomise under pressure and you ended up breathing it in anyway.