The Next 47 Seconds…

The ‘No Time to Lose’ campaign that has been recently launched by the Institution of Occupation Safety and Health (IOSH) aims to tackle the inordinately high number of occupation-related cancer deaths in the UK.  It is sobering to realise that there is one work-related cancer death every 47 seconds – roughly the same amount of time it will take to read this article.

Some industries are more susceptible than others and certain working patterns have been shown to pose higher risks.  The presence of harmful dust, such as silica or asbestos and the use of hazardous materials, puts the construction sector in a high risk category.

Asbestos-related diseases alone account for 20 deaths every week, and the dangerous material still exists in a large number of buildings built prior to the year 2000.  There have been significant steps taken to improve on-site safety in the construction sector, but it appears that threats to workers’ health have received less attention: for every one accident-related fatality last year, 100 construction workers died from a work-related cancer.

Such statistics have led to widespread calls for employers to put greater emphasis on workers’ health in order to reduce this level of work related fatalities.  The measures needed to minimise the risks can be easy to implement, therefore there are few excuses for UK employers with a cancer-related exposure to not take due precautions.

Techniques to prevent occupational cancer vary depending on the industry, the type of exposure and the method of work used. However, the hierarchy of hazard control can offer an invaluable starting point.

Eliminate – Redesign the working environment to remove the hazard completely

Substitute – Change the high-risk material to a less hazardous one, such as replacing lead-based paint with acrylic paint.

Engineering controls – Use additional machinery, such as local exhaust ventilation, to control risks from dust or fumes. Order materials to size to reduce the need for cutting.

Administrative controls – Identify and implement procedures to enable safe working. E.g. Using job rotation to reduce the time workers are exposed to hazardous substances, performing risk assessments, increasing safety signage and providing awareness training.

Protective clothing and equipment – As a follow-up to all previous measures, consider ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE) is individually fitted and that workers are trained in the function and limitations of each item of PPE.

The consequences of poor occupational health standards can be grave and costly, but simple precautions, such as providing appropriate training and ensuring health and safety policies are consistently enforced, have the potential to save lives.

Further information and support to prevent occupational cancer can be found:

Article first appeared in SHP online

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Author: Mark Paterson, Client Risk Manager, Casualty Risk Solutions

[QBE European Operations]