Warning for WA workers to beware hidden cancer-causing agents

Posted 25 Oct 2018.


We're urging West Aussies to be aware of the silent killers lurking at work, with estimates 3.6 million (40 per cent) Australian workers could be exposed to one or more cancer causing agents in their workplace.

This exposure is thought to cause over 5,000 (6.5 per cent) of new cases of cancer in Australia each year ; equivalent to 10.8 per cent of cancer cases in males and 2.2 per cent in females each year.

October is National Safe Work Month, and whilst many workplaces are wary of short-term physical injuries, many workers are still unaware of the life-threatening exposures they could encounter going about their daily tasks.

Our Cancer Prevention and Research Director Melissa Ledger said the occupation groups where exposure is greatest include farmers, drivers, construction workers, manufacturing industry workers, forestry and logging industry workers, miners, and transport workers.

"Some of the most common dangerous carcinogens present in Australian workplaces are diesel engine exhaust, silica dust, welding fumes, asbestos, second-hand tobacco smoke, and UV radiation," Melissa said.

"UV radiation in the form of sunlight is Australia's most prevalent occupational carcinogen. It's estimated 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by occupational UV exposure each year.

"Over 2 million Australian workers - 37 per cent of the Australian male working population and eight per cent of the female working population are estimated to be significantly exposed to solar UV radiation in the course of their work. This is incredibly significant and largely avoidable.

"With all occupational cancer risks, prevention is better than cure. The only way to reduce your exposure to workplace carcinogens and therefore cancer risk is for workplaces to implement appropriate control measures that either eliminate or substitute the products linked to dangerous exposure. But at an individual level, workers should protect themselves with appropriate protective equipment. For outdoor workers, long sleeved shirts, long pants, a wide-brim hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must."


Office workers not immune

Our Healthier Workplace WA Coordinator Hayley O'Connell said office workers also need to consider their sedentary work habits when it comes to long-term health. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed sitting longer than six hours a day can increase risk of early death by 19 per cent.

"Many Australians are now sitting longer than they are sleeping. Work accounts for more than a third of the day for the average office worker and on average 6.3 hours per day sitting at work. If you add that to the time you spend sitting outside work, it doesn't take long to eclipse that 8 hour mark," Hayley said.

"A lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet are precursors for many serious chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

"Increasingly, research suggests that 30 mins of exercise a day is not enough to combat the negative effects of a sedentary job.

"Our main advice is to make sure you're getting up from your computer whenever you can and stretch your legs with a walk around the office. Try walking meetings where possible, and use your lunchbreak to go for a stroll around the block. The long term benefits are obvious, and you'll actually find you have more energy during the day, too."


Common workplace carcinogens

The most common carcinogenic exposures in Australian workplaces are:
• solar ultraviolet radiation
• diesel engine exhaust
• environmental tobacco smoke
• benzene - found in crude oil and petrol. Used to produce plastics, resins, synthetic fibres, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.
• lead
• silica dust
• wood dust
• artificial ultraviolet radiation
• polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
• organic chemicals released from burning organic substances such as coal, oil and petrol.
• chromium VI - occurs during activities such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal.


For more information about workplace cancer risks visit our kNOw Worplace Cancer page or call us on 13 11 20. 

Found in:  News - 2018 | View all news