The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a fact sheet on Environmental and Occupational Cancers. It verified the knowledge that cancer is a leading cause of death throughout the world. It also noted that, worldwide, 19% of all cancers are due to the environment. This includes the work environment which is responsible for 1.3 million deaths each year. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, and bladder cancer rank among the most common occupational cancers.
Asbestos in the workplace
All forms of asbestos, along with other agents such as benzene, radon, UV radiation – including tanning devices – as well as iron and steel founding are among 107 agents, mixtures, and exposure situations identified by WHO as carcinogenic to humans. Considering asbestos alone, about 125 million workers are exposed to this deadly mineral and, according to WHO, more than 107,000 people die due to asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis every year because of their exposure in the workplace. Shockingly, one in three occupational exposure deaths are caused by asbestos.
The good news is that most exposure risks are preventable, even for asbestos. What can be done?
Prevention strategies for occupational exposure to carcinogens
• Ensure companies equip and train workers using all information, personal protective equipment (PPE), and procedures to meet health and safety standards.
• Test any structures that potentially contain asbestos before any remodeling or other actions that would release deadly fibers takes place.
• Create tobacco-free workplaces. Smoking – and second-hand smoke – can intensify the exposure risks from asbestos and many other carcinogens. Providing programs and advice on giving up tobacco will add to the overall health of employees.
• Utilize internal and community programs that encourage a healthy lifestyle. Paying for health club memberships can be a sound investment for companies.
Since employers can be held liable for exposure to carcinogens, it makes sense that the health and safety of employees is good for a business and demonstrates the respect a company has for the wellbeing of its employees.