Tuesday 28 August 2012

Claims that HSE is in denial over occupational cancer

The HSE needs to change its “unrealistic” and “ignorant” approach to occupational cancer if thousands more cases and deaths are to be prevented, a pressure group has warned.

Released yesterday (22 August) as the Executive’s board was discussing its latest estimate of the current burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain, a statement by the Hazards Campaign accused the regulator of “showing little interest in finding unknown exposures, underestimating the numbers of workers exposed, and showing no sense of urgency to tackle this massive but preventable workplace epidemic”.

The HSE’s Long Latency Health Risks Division estimates that occupational cancer accounts for around 8000 of the estimated annual toll of 12,000 deaths from occupational ill health, and some 14,000 new cases a year. This is based on a study funded by the HSE and published in the British Journal of Cancer in June this year.

A paper presented to the board yesterday outlined how the Executive is addressing this via a range of interventions and by focusing on 10 priority agents/occupations to help it identify where its efforts will have the most impact.

The Hazards Campaign, however, contends that the true annual figures are nearer 18,000 deaths and 30,000 registrations, and blames the HSE’s reliance on epidemiology – looking primarily at the specific organs in the body affected by cancer, rather than the actual causes – for its skewed vision.

Warned occupational cancer researcher, Simon Pickvance: “The HSE has been in denial about work cancer for over three decades, depending far too heavily on epidemiology, which is only capable of seeing widespread, long-established problems among large numbers of workers, employed for long periods of time, in large workplaces, such as mines, mills and manufacturing. This is totally unsuitable for today’s smaller, and fast-evolving workplaces, with more complex and diverse exposures.”

Mr Pickvance cited the example to SHP of diesel-engine exhaust emissions – one of the 10 priority agents/occupations chosen by the HSE. He explained: “The HSE cites the figure of 10,000 people exposed, but there are some 600,000 professional drivers alone, while the overall number of people who drive as part of their work is nearer one million.”

He also criticised the focus on just 10 agents/occupations, saying: “It’s not a question of prioritising the most common causes because we don’t actually know what the most common causes are!”

The Hazards Campaign is calling for a broader-spectrum approach, which would involve asking workers to identify workplace exposure to carcinogens, talking to medical consultants, who deal with patients, and solicitors, who see a steady flow of claimants with occupational cancer. However, Mr Pickvance acknowledges that HSE resources are a problem. He said: “We are aware of the current economic climate and so are not expecting the HSE to do very much.”

The HSE’s overall funding for health-based research is around £7 million a year; projects related to occupational cancer cost £5 million during the 2009/10 and 2011/12 work years.

The paper presented to the board yesterday outlined work done so far and still in progress, including myriad campaigns, awareness-raising initiatives, ongoing research projects, liaison with industry organisations and other government departments, task-specific advice and guidance, and engagement in discussions at European level on classification of carcinogens and mutagens. The board has been invited to consider, among other things, how the HSE can engage constructively with more partners to deliver future beneficial interventions; whether more work should be done specifically in the cases of shift work, diesel-engine exhaust emissions, painters and welders; and if a workshop/conference should be held with partners to explore what more can be done on occupational disease.

Source: SHP

No comments:

Post a Comment