Research

Australian workers exposed to multiple carcinogens

Australian researchers from the School of Public Health, at Western Australia's Curtin University, examined data from the the Australian Work Exposures Study, a nationwide cross-sectional telephone survey of Australian workers aged between 18 and 65. This study from a decade ago found 40 per cent of workers were exposed to at least one of 38 probable or known carcinogenic agents found in Australian workplaces. Until now little was known about the extent of multiple exposures, with many studies focussing on exposure to a single carcinogen, resulting, said the researchers, in ‘substantial knowledge gaps’.

They found that the majority (81 per cent) of exposed respondents were assessed as being probably exposed to more than one carcinogen, and 26 per cent reported exposure to five or more carcinogens. It is believed that about 3.6 million Australian workers are exposed to carcinogens in the workplace.

The research team said that occupational cancers account for 5,000 invasive cancers and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers per year in Australia – although there are varying views on this.

They found farmers, engineers, painters, nurses, plumbers, vehicle workers, carpenters, emergency workers, heavy vehicle workers, miners and handypersons had a significantly increased likelihood of being exposed to multiple carcinogens.

The most common carcinogens, starting with the most prevalent, were solar radiation, diesel engine exhaust, tobacco smoke, benzene, respirable crystalline silica, wood dust, lead, shift work and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons other than vehicle exhausts.

They found many workers were co-exposed to carcinogens associated with bladder cancer (diesel engine exhaust and poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and lung cancers (diesel engine exhaust, poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tobacco smoke and silica), and that more than half of all miners, farmers, heavy vehicle drivers, construction workers, emergency workers and engineers were exposed to more than one lung carcinogen
Sources: Jennifer F McKenzie, Sonia El-Zaemey, Renee N Carey, Prevalence of exposure to multiple occupational carcinogens among exposed workers in Australia [Abstract] Occupational & Environmental Medicine; OHS Alert

 

 

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