Working With Carcinogens: Are You Safe?

Research suggests that anywhere between 2 and 8 per cent of cancers are work-related. The Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) recently published a quantitative study on the types of cancers that could be attributed to a diversity of chemical compounds found in the workplace.

“Are there carcinogens in your workplace? It's time to act!” is the first ever report in Quebec that deals with potential carcinogenic substances found in work environments. It reveals that occupational carcinogen exposures in the province have caused as much as 3 000 new cancers per year between 2002 and 2006, and claim almost 1 700 deaths per cancer every year.

In Quebec, cancers most often linked to workplace exposures to hazardous chemicals are those of the trachea, bronchus and lung, prostate, bladder and skin (excluding melanoma) as well as mesothelioma and non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Employees most vulnerable to come in contact with carcinogenic substances are those working in the construction, woodwork, mining, painting industries, as well as workers in the chemical, rubber or dye sectors.
“It’s time to take action and do something to prevent those cases of cancer that not only have human and social costs, but also entail a financial burden for companies,” says IRSST epidemiologist France Labrèche.

The IRSST publication also includes information on identifying various carcinogens in the workplace, agents such as arsenic, asbestos, ionizing, radiation, nickel compounds and vinyl chloride.

Furthermore, the guide cites examples for controlling exposure to a number of possible occupational cancers. It recommends effective identification of potential carcinogens, changes in the composition of products being used and even suggests the use of new products.

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