Young workers lead cancer risk PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 December 2012 13:08

Almost half the WA workforce face risks from cancer in their job, which is more than the national average and is fuelled by young male blue-collar workers.


Research released at a WA Cancer Council research symposium reveals 45 per cent of Western Australians have reported exposure to at least one cancer-causing substance at work, compared with about 40 per cent of Australian workers.

The most common sources of carcinogens are UV exposure from the sun, diesel engine exhaust and environmental tobacco smoke.

Researchers say the surprisingly high results are partly explained by the large number of outdoor workers in WA facing UV exposure and a high proportion of workers exposed to diesel engine exhaust through mining and construction jobs and driving trucks.

Lead researcher Lin Fritschi, a cancer epidemiologist at the WA Institute for Medical Research, presented the research on environmental exposure to cancer.
Professor Fritschi said she was surprised by the figures, given the risks of exposure to these substances were well known.

"The workers affected are primarily blue-collar, and the main factor is sun exposure and that affects construction workers, who we have a lot of in WA, but also miners, farmers, gardeners and other people working outside" she said.

"It's also more male than female workers, and surprisingly younger males, which is probably because they're the ones doing the tradies' jobs."

The study looked only at workers with an obvious exposure to a cancer-causing substance at work, such as chemicals, rather than workers who might have an increased risk of cancer because of the nature of their job, such as sitting for long periods.

Professor Fritschi said sun exposure was well controlled on big worksites but the smaller workplaces were falling behind.

"If you're the local plumber working on the construction of a new house, no one's there telling you to wear a hat," she said. "You might only have a small number of workers on each of those sites, but there are many of them so the numbers start to add up.

"The next step will be to examine how that exposure is happening and its impacts on the risk of developing cancer."

Professor Fritschi hopes the research will prompt employers and workers to consider how they can limit their risks.

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