European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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19 October 2015

Occupational cancer: an expert reminds the EU of its responsibilities

In a new ETUI publication, an international occupational health expert invites the European Union to spearhead a global campaign to eliminate occupational cancer.

‘We can and should have a more ambitious target: to eliminate occupational cancer’, writes Jukka Takala in a working paper published by the ETUI in early October. This occupational health expert, a former Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, invites the European Union to take the lead in the global fight against the ‘cancer epidemic’.

Jukka Takala estimates that occupational cancer causes 102 500 deaths in the EU every year, which is 20 times the number caused by occupational accidents. Based on UK data, he believes that 85 % of occupational cancer cases are linked to exposure at work to around 10 carcinogens.

The human cost of asbestos is still very high: Mr Takala estimates that it causes around 47 000 deaths in the EU every year. However, other less well-known carcinogens are also causing a high number of cancers: mineral oils, solar radiation, silica, diesel exhaust gases, etc. The organisation of work is also implicated: shift work increases the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancers.

As a major producer of chemical products, the EU has a key role to play in preventing occupational cancer, summarises Mr Takala. He points out that, with the REACH Regulation on the trade in chemical products, Europe has a tool allowing it to make progress in this area. Together with REACH, there is also other major European legislation that specifically aims to protect workers against carcinogens. The occupational health expert recommends that this legislation should be reinforced, in particular by setting binding occupational exposure limits for a larger number of carcinogens.

To download the working paper (in English)

Takala, J., Eliminating occupational cancer in Europe and globally (October 2015)

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