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Real and Present Danger: Carcinogens in the Workplace

Aug 10, 2018
Many of us have been affected by cancer in some way through our connections to family, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Recent stats from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicated that nearly one out of two men and one out of three women living in the U.S. will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. American Cancer Society reports that cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. and World Health Organization says that 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred in 2012.

It's likely that some of these cases of cancer have been related to work in some way, whether through exposure to a carcinogen or due to specific circumstances at work.

Despite this In peer-reviewed article published in the July 2018 issue of Professional Safety, Connie Muncy, M.S., CIH, CUSP, REM, a senior health and safety administrator with AES Corp., and Administrator of ASSP's Utilities Practice Specialty, explains why workplace cancer prevention has a lower profile than workplace injury prevention. "Many sources openly acknowledge that occupational statistics are, in reality, underestimated," Muncy says.

A primary reason for that, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, is that long-term latent illnesses caused by exposure to carcinogens are often difficult to relate the workplace. As a result, they are not adequately recognized and reported. It's also difficult to link a specific instance of cancer with a specific exposure to a cancer-causing agent. 

"When a fatality occurs in the workplace it is visible, but most people who are killed by cancer will die either at home or in a hospital," Muncy says. 

This fact has likely contributed to the lack of action in preventing work-related cancer, Muncy says. Other contributing factors likely include economic pressures to produce numbers today with no outlook to long-term health impacts; limited testing of health risks of many chemicals currently used in the workplace; and the length of time often needed to identify an occupational cancer risk.

Several actions can be taken to raise awareness of the need for better protection against work-related cancers, Muncy says. In addition to improving cancer cluster evaluations, authorities in this area suggest a range of activities. These range from developing more unified scientific evidence on the magnitude of the problem, improving surveillance and reduction in industry/employer carcinogen use, to greater media involvement, more awareness-raising campaigns and employer incentives.

"What it is important to know about the occupational carcinogen problem is that it is taking a high toll on society," Muncy concludes. "All occupational cancers are avoidable and the experts have proposed certain steps be taken to prevent occupational cancers.

Read Muncy's complete article..

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