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IOSH urges organisations to manage carcinogens

04 November 2020

IOSH’S NO Time to Lose campaign is urging organisations to manage carcinogens in workplaces during Covid-19 as it marks its sixth anniversary on 3 November 2020.

Global research estimates that one person dies on average every 43 seconds from a cancer caused by work – a staggering 742,000 deaths a year. However, these deaths are all preventable. No Time to Lose provides free practical resources to help businesses manage dangerous carcinogens in the workplace.

The campaign is tacking four serious carcinogens – asbestos, silica dust, solar radiation and diesel fumes. Its webinar on 29 October entitled ‘Managing the risks of workplace carcinogens: what your organisation needs to do now’ reminded businesses not to lose sight of carcinogens while they concentrate on risks associated with Covid-19. 

IOSH Council member and NTTL Ambassador Keith Hole chaired the panel discussion, which brought together expert researchers, professional bodies, campaigners and those affected by workplace cancer to discuss why managing these cancer-causing workplace risks is so important – and how we can do it effectively.

Mavis Nye, a campaigner and founder of the Mavis Nye Foundation, contracted the deadly cancer mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos dust while shaking out and washing her husband Ray’s clothes when he worked as an apprentice at the Chatham dockyard in Kent in the 1950s. She said, “Mesothelioma is hitting younger people. Organisations need to monitor the air. Because of Covid, my treatment was stopped, we can’t stop cancer treatment as we go into a second wave.”

Jody Dutton shared her personal story of how occupational cancer has affected her family's lives. She said, “My mum was 57 and was fit and well. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma and told she had six months to live. At lockdown, she had to stay at home and self-isolate and it caught up with her. She didn’t want people to know how ill she was. She was taken into hospital and then sadly passed away at the hospice at the age of 58. Covid had a significant impact on my mum’s treatments. I want to use my mum’s story to raise awareness.”  

Kevin Bampton, CEO at the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), quantified the continuing scale of carcinogenic risks and highlighted his organisation’s Breathe Freely campaign. He said, “Breathe Freely has been running for five years. It works in parallel with IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign to reach the construction and manufacturing industries. The most dangerous exposures are those that you breathe and touch. Our campaign targets leader to highlight how to prevent exposure at work. Breathe Freely is widely available with more resources.” 

Dr Ian Mudway, senior lecturer in public health at Imperial College London, also joined to give a preview of the findings from the IOSH-funded Driver Diesel Exposure Mitigation Study (DEMiSt). The largest research study of its kind.

He said: “People underestimate the environment that they work in. We live in a chemical soup and it’s a really big issue. Diesel emissions are associated with lung cancer, COPD, heart disease and dementia. People at highest risk are drivers. We studied 150 drivers across different sectors in London. We gave them a device to measure black carbon emissions, and exposures were really high. Taxi drivers were at the top of the list of exposure.”   

Over the years, No Time to Lose has gained support from more than 400 leading organisations worldwide who have joined the fight to tackle cancer caused by work, which outstrips those dying from work-related accidents. And around 130,000 resources have been downloaded from the website. It also won the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Mark of Excellence Award for the Best International Campaign.

Find out more about the campaign and download free award-winning resources.