European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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28 October 2011

ETUI contribution to a seminar on the prevention of occupational cancers

On 30 September, the European Work Hazards Network (EWHN)* held a seminar in Torino (Italy) focusing on two main topics: the identification of hitherto unknown causes and exposure to occupational cancers as a prerequisite for targeted prevention, and new methods of reducing exposure to well-known carcinogens.
Aida Ponce, researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), emphasized that occupational cancers are a research priority within the ETUI, since many of the deaths in Europe are the direct result of workers being exposed to carcinogens at work. In her speech, she focused on how REACH legislation can help occupational cancer prevention, via the Authorisation and Restriction process, which will promote the substitution of the most harmful substances by safer alternatives. The recently published Trade Union priority list for REACH Authorisation is a tool that might help workers and their reps in playing an active role in the substitution process.
Other concrete projects were presented. In France, the Giscop 93 project which appeared in 2001 used an original methodology in an industrial department in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. It came about as the result of collaboration between academic researchers and three hospitals. The project has been extended to the Pays de Loire region. This has resulted in reports demonstrating that the social division of work is a key element for identifying carcinogens at the workplace. Sub-contracting and temporary work play an important role in that division of work and its risks.
The Giscop initiative is coordinated by the sociologist Annie Thébaud-Mony. She explained that there are five categories of exposure situations that are related not to specific products but to production processes:
1) high-technology production processes involving the use of dangerous products with immediate effect;
2) production processes that lead to little or no immediate effect and where workers know very little about the risks (e.g. printing processes);
3) production processes involving sub-contracting conditions where risks have not necessarily been evaluated (e.g. maintenance and repair functions);
4) construction and building sites with a whole set of situations, such as demolition, renovation and reconstruction;
5) the cleaning and waste management sectors, where there are almost no studies, and workers are subject to multiple carcinogen exposure.

Simon Pickvance, an expert in chemical risks, presented the outcome of a study carried out in Sheffield (UK).It demonstrates that patients with bladder cancer had been exposed to high levels of cadmium and azo dyes.
In the case of the azo dyes, occupational exposure may take place within the context of dyeing textiles, leather and plastics.
The questions arising include how controls can be introduced given that quantities of individual azo dyes may not reach the volume of 1 ton per year above which producers or users of carcinogens have to introduce an authorisation request according to the REACH regulation. There are many azo dyes on the market that have not been subjected to long-term tests. The big question is whether controls can be applied to a whole group of substances.
The case of nasal cancer was presented by Stefano Silvestre from the Cancer Prevention Institute (Istituto per la Prevenzione Oncologica) located in Florence. He emphasized hygiene problems in the leather and wood sectors. In the sanding division, workers are exposed to thin and light particles resulting from failures in ventilation devices and protective equipment that is not widely used.
The second part of the seminar focused on reducing exposure to well-known carcinogens. Henning Wriedt, an expert from Kooperationsstelle Hamburg, presented the new regulatory approaches to the prevention of occupational cancers in Germany. This new approach was designed to give a transparent picture of whether or not a company is observing the minimization requirement, to provide support for minimizing exposures and to prioritize the minimization of high risks.

*The European Work Hazards Network gathers occupational health specialists interested in the improvement of working conditions and standards regarding health and safety and well-being of workers.

Source: ETUI
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