The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) held a training course on work cancers in Naples from 3 to 6 February 2014. Eighteen trade unionists from across Europe considered strategies for tackling the leading cause of “death by work” so as to prevent 100 000 workers dying from carcinogen exposures in the EU each year.

Prevention clearly has to target maintenance and construction jobs but also young workers (apprentices, trainees) who the available data indicate are most exposed. The most common workplace carcinogens are diesel exhaust fumes, whole mineral oils, wood dust, crystalline silica, ionizing radiation, but also asbestos and other manufactured chemicals.

Women are particularly exposed to night work (increased risk of breast cancer) and chemicals used in hospitals and in the cleaning industry.

The participants discussed possible options for preventing and/or minimising cancer risks, including trade union pressure in companies (e.g., the Danish trade unions’ campaign to improve air quality at Copenhagen airport), replacement of carcinogens by safer alternatives (or processes), and occupational exposure limit values. The European legal framework was also scrutinized (the Carcinogens Directive under review and the REACH Regulation) along with the generally inadequate various national systems for recognition and compensation of the very many reported cases of occupational cancer.