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Tackling the Cancer Risk from Dust

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has called for a more joined up approach to controlling mineral dust in the workplace to help reduce the UK’s occupational cancer burden.

According to IOSH, around 800 people in Britain a year die from lung cancer caused by prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at work, and 900 new cases are being diagnosed annually.

“Silica dust exposure is a cross-industry issue. Tackling it, therefore, requires a cross-industry approach,” explained Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH. “We believe that we can beat occupational cancers if we work together to control the risks of exposure to the causes. Joined up thinking, rather than each sector doing its own thing, has the potential to make a real difference in tackling this major occupational health issue.”

Research conducted by IOSH has identified common barriers to effectively controlling the issue. A lack of understanding or awareness of silica dust as a hazard was the main cause highlighted. Resistance from employees to using controls, ineffective implementation of control measures in practice and employers not prioritising RCS as a significant hazard were also found to be hampering efforts.

The issue is one of five common agents associated with work-related cancer registrations and deaths in the UK that IOSH is raising awareness of through its No Time to Lose campaign.

Asbestos, diesel engine exhaust fumes, solar radiation and shift work are also being highlighted as part of the campaign, which aims to get work-related cancer more widely understood and help businesses take action.

According to research by Imperial College London, 8,000 people die from cancer and around 14,000 contract the disease each year in the UK because of exposure to a work-related carcinogen.

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