7,000 people die each year from avoidable work-related cancers

A manufacturing body has urged employers to better assess health risks in the workplace after newly-published figures showed that 7,000 people a year die from preventable work-related cancers.

A report by the Society for Occupational Medicine (SOM) revealed that more than one million people are exposed to hazardous chemicals each year in their workplace. Asbestos was singled out as the biggest killer – causing more than 3,800 cancer-related deaths a year – followed by Crystalline Silica, which is readily used in the manufacturing and construction industries.

Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, admitted to Personnel Today that some firms were too complacent and failed to protect their employees.

“Some [employers] are just ignoring the risks entirely and this could result in civil claims or prosecutions by either the Health and Safety Executive or local authorities,” he said.

“Employers need to do more than just provide information every employer has a duty to assess risk.

“Getting the information out to employees is important, but eliminating exposure should be the focus.

“They need to ask the question, is there a necessity that we work with this substance, and what is the most effective way of dealing with it?”

He conceded however, that some cancers could take years to develop, so recent cases could be the result of failings that took place many years ago.

Richard Preece, occupational medicine consultant at SOM, said HR played a very important role in minimising staff exposure to dangerous chemicals.

“With the right kind of action that toll of 7,000 unnecessary deaths can be reduced,” he said.

“Employers need to educate workers to make sure they minimise exposure and core HR expertise is needed to find the best means of getting that information to workers in the form of short, sharp solutions helping them to look after their health.”

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