European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Work-related cancer: emerging from obscurity

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HesaMag 18

Cancer is responsible for 1.3 million deaths in the European Union each year. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than 100,000 of these deaths are attributable to exposure to carcinogens during a victim’s working life, meaning that nearly 8% of all cancer deaths in Europe are work-related. Yet such occupational factors only rarely attract media attention. Even more surprisingly, the campaigns rolled out by public institutions or private organisations dedicated to fighting cancer almost never speak of such causes.

For some thirty years, the European Trade Union Institute has been engaged in researching the issue, providing information on the subject and raising awareness to work-related cancers. Its main objective is to get European legislation in this field tightened. Despite many obstacles, this work is now – finally – bearing fruit, with many occupational exposure limit values now adopted for carcinogens present in a large number of companies. But though laws play a key role in protecting workers’ health, they are nothing more than a promise – and by no means a guarantee. In all too many companies, basic health and safety rules continue to be flouted. In the vast majority of cases, these breaches of the law go unpunished. One of the only exceptions is when workers, either individually or collectively, take action themselves. But this also involves them bearing the financial, social and occupational consequences.

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