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Work Related Cancers

Scientists have estimated that occupational exposure to cancer-causing chemicals is responsible for nearly 4% of cancer cases in the UK (2015).

It is important to remember that it only affects a very small number of people in very specific jobs. These exposures are less of a problem now, due to strict Health and Safety Laws and certain substances being banned from use.

But cancer can take many years, or even decades, to develop. Some people may have an increased risk of cancer because they used to work with cancer causing substances before the regulations came into force.

It is not always easy to establish what the cause of a particular cancer is. However, there are various types which are known to be linked to occupational exposure to carcinogens:

Lung – most commonly caused by smoking or exposure to asbestos fibres, but can also be caused by carcinogenic chemicals, toxic dust or radiation

Bladder – can be caused by exposure to aromatic amines used in dyes and pigments, textiles, paints, plastics, paper, drugs and pesticides and in rubber preparation. It can also be used in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are used in industries with exposure to coal tars, soot, aluminium production e.g. coal gasification, coke production, coal-tar distillation, chimneys, roofing and paving, metal founders and smelting, motor and engine exhausts

Throat/Laryngeal – can sometimes be linked to exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Nasal and sinus – often associated with exposure to formaldehyde, leather and wood dust

Liver – anyone who has been exposed to vinyl chloride can be at risk. People in the plastics, rubber and resin manufacturing, car interiors, furniture making and transportation industries are most at risk

Skin – usually associated with exposure to mineral oils (e.g. metal workers and printing industries) and UV radiation (e.g. those working outdoors)

Types of work that carry a higher risk, and some examples of working conditions that may increase the risk include:

  • agriculture, forestry and fishing – including too much sun exposure, or chemicals like pesticides
  • construction and painting – including asbestos, too much sun exposure, silica, diesel engine exhaust, coal products, paint and solvents, or wood dust
  • manufacturing and mining industries – including exposure to fossil fuels and their by-products (such as mineral oils, coal products, benzene, diesel engine exhaust), asbestos, silica, solvents, radon, or too much sun exposure
  • service industries – some types of jobs in this industry that could lead to a higher risk include: roles with outdoor or shift work, household or vehicle repair technicians, or transport (drivers or flight personnel). The types of risks in this industry include too much sun exposure, second-hand smoke, diesel engine exhaust, or radon.
  • teachers – exposed to Asbestos due to old buildings not being changed, visit Right to Know: Asbestos in Schools

Working outdoors
If you work outdoors for some or all of your working day, your skin may be regularly exposed to the damaging effects of the sun over a long period of time. So it is important for outdoor workers to take steps to protect themselves.

If you work indoors, then you should consider using sun protection during your lunch break over the summer months. Enjoy the sun safely by using shade, clothes and at least SPF15 sunscreen.

What can you do?
From the moment you are diagnosed, it is important that you obtain as much information as possible about the condition and disease and discuss the treatment options available to you.  

There are various organisations and charities that can help you, and that offer support through such difficult times. They will assist in providing information and advice on work and benefits, and offer emotional support when things get tough for you and your family.

A lot of the organisations have support networks which are local to you. They can put you in touch with advisors and counsellors. Local support groups can be a great way to discuss the diagnosis with others who are going through, or who have been through, similar situations.  

What if my employer has ceased trading?
A diagnosis of cancer can be a life changing condition. It can be a complex area of law and it is advisable to consult a solicitor as soon as possible after diagnosis, so you can discuss the options available to you. It need not matter that your employer is no longer trading. The employer should have had insurance.  It has been compulsory for employers to have insurance from 1 January 1972, and even though the employer may have ceased trading, if the insurer for the period of the employment and exposure can be located it may be possible that a claim can still be made.

How can claiming for compensation help me? 
In addition to claiming compensation for the injury, you may still be in work and require advice on how your employment may be affected. It is important that you seek early advice, so that you are best placed to take the most appropriate action for your individual circumstances.

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